But there is one big decision that won’t so easy.
Difficult decision: Toby Hall
Day 2 of the Charity Week experience. This charity event actually took place last Thursday, but somehow I lost my little camera video card in the movement from the camera to the computer. Now that the day’s photos are safely within the computer, it is time to give you some of the highlights and tales from the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic.
This is my second year volunteering for this golfing event that first started out as a bowling event in Tampa so many years ago. Arrived at the Bayou Club gold clubhouse about 9:45-ish and immediately came face-to face with three off-duty members of the St. Petersburg Police Department.
They were there as special guests of Hall to participate in a fundraising event through their memorial T-shirt benefiting the families of two recently slain SPPD officers. During the charity event, the SPPD representatives set up a tent at the turning point or Hole 9.5 of the course and as the golfing pairs came up to do the putting challenge, they could also purchase T-shirts and speak to the officers( including a K-9 officer) that knew the two officers.
When Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder B J Upton’s 5-member pairing came up for the putting contest, Upton took a moment to go over to the SPPD tent and purchased not one, but over a dozen T-shirts, including one for everyone in his pairing group.
Fellow Rays Fans Wall of Fame member George Stone was on the scene again that day spreading the word about the featured charity of the event, The Miracle League. Some might not know that the Miracle League is a baseball league formed so that children of all ages with special needs and abilities can also enjoy the greatest game on dirt. At one point later in the evening, Stone actually got a verbal commitment from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to attend the 2011 Opening Day event in St. Petersburg.
There were plenty of Rays, plus ex-Rays on hand this day helping Hall in his quest to help this great organization. I remember a few years ago when they completely re-constructed the Miracle League field in the Azalea region of St. Petersburg, just down the street from the old Rays Spring Training facility.
On hand that day supporting Hall’s charity event was Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Jesse Litsch (Jays), Brian Stokes (Jays).Boof Bonser ( NY Mets), Jason Michaels (Astros), Trever Miller (Cardinals),Ryan Webb (Marlins), Gregg Zaun (Padres), Miguel Cairo (Reds). Bobby Wilson (Angels) and Jorge Cantu (Padres), plus former NBA star Matt Gieger and retired Bucs running back Mike Alstott.
Representing the Rays was Upton, starter James Shields, RP Andy Sonnanstine, and new RP Adam Russell. Also on hand were a few other well known Rays faces either from the Coaching ranks, or from their on-the-field reporting. Broadcaster Todd Kalas was joined on this day by current Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley and former Rays Coaches Bill Evers ( Durham Bulls), Ozzie Timmons (Columbus Catfish) and former Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. Rays shortstop Reid Brignac was also scheduled to attend, but had an emergency.
I was stationed to begin the day in the registration area handing out specially made Toby Hall caps, visors and rain slickers. But just as it seemed I might have an early end to my day, I volunteered to run the putting contest. It was a great time in which each pairing member got a chance to hit one golf ball into a sectioned off squared area for multiples of points with a maximum of 10 points if you sunk your putt..
You could cut the air with a knife as to the early competitive nature of the event as Cairo was the closest to the hole for most of the day until 5 pairings from the end, the cream began to rise to the putting top of the pot. Local attorney David Papa, who was in the Wilson pairing found the center of the hole to become the first to thrust his team to a sizeable lead. ( total 14 points).
That total seemed safe until one of the last groups, which included LPGA star Brittney Linicome, had their first putting contestant Tim Nalls of American Marketing put in square in the hole. With an immediate 10 points, this team was quickly putting (bad pun) itself into contention for the Putting contest crown.
But suddenly we all noticed that Linicome, who had an early flight out of Orlando in the morning for a LPGA event had left before taking her putting chance. I made an executive putting contest decision to let Nalls put his way to either team victory, or a second place finish. The climatic moment was short lived as Nalls pulled his second try to the right and did not even register a single additional point. I wonder if Linicome would have gotten them that needed 5 points for their victory by putting her golf ball in the inner square within a foot of the hole? We will never know.
But the solace of placing second was definitely short lived by the Linicome pairing as they finished the event with a 52, good enough for the eventual top finish in the tournament and bragging right for the entire year. As the teammates from the Linicome pairing basked in the afterglow and celebrated at the after party at Courtside Grille minus Brittney. The real winner here was the Miracle League.
I have been proud the last two years of volunteering in this event, and also made a commitment that day to help another event that will be held this Friday. On that day I will be helping out the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament in Oldsmar, Florida. How can I possibly complain, another great day in the Sun with athletes supporting their local charities and spreading the news of this great charitable golfing event.
I want to remind the Rays Republic that the memorial T-shirts that benefit the families of the two slain SPPD officers will be ongoing in the Tampa Bay community. You can contact, or visit the St. Petersburg Police Department’s lobby to purchase a T-shirt, or contact them about ongoing outside T-shirt opportunities within the community. Please support this worthy charity and remembrance of these Tampa Bay heroes.
Again I want to thank Tracey and her staff plus Toby for the adventures and memories. Believe me, I have more than a few moments to tell people about that would not fit on this post today. But that is the great thing about charity events like this that happen so close to Spring Training. The excitement levels in seeing past friends and the approaching report dates just adds to the zeal and essence of the tournament.
I am already looking forward to the 2012 event. I want to post a link here for the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches and hope that all of us can contribute in some way to a great organization that brings the love of the game to some that might not be able to run, hit or even pitch like everyone, but the smile and joy on their faces as they move around the bases makes it so worthwhile.
All photos taken at the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic can be found in a photo set on Flickr.com
Maybe I am being a bit too “civic sensitive” here in thinking the Lightning might consider outfitting the Rays squad with their own jerseys especially since several current Rays players (Evan Longoria, B J Upton) and former Rays (Toby Hall, Scott Kazmir) have been known to wander around the Lightning locker room. And I could see Maddon possibly putting on a number 11 jersey of Chicago Blackhawk center John Madden at another moment in time, but not this weekend. Leave it to Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to fuel the anti-Phillies fires with a nice cheeky statement in a US Today story on May 26th:
But then again, this just might be my fault being a bit uber sensitive to this region’s plight to right the Rays attendance woes, then seeing a indirect signal from the Rays Coaching staff that flushes the past glory of their own hometown hockey franchise that used to play their NHL contests in the same confines as the Rays just perplexes me at the moment. How many people remember the sight of so many Tampa Bay hockey fans swarming the aisles of Tropicana Field, then the Thunderdome, to set the past record for a NHL post season playoff attendance record (25,945). It was a sign that hockey had finally come to this region and been embraced by the fans.
Sure, I might not have had a single thought about it all if we had played Boston this weekend, or maybe even Cleveland. But the fact that the Windy City’s other MLB squad is seated in our own visitor’s clubhouse, and this Rays team will be sporting their hometown’s NHL gear on the bus to St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, then fly directly to Toronto definitely evoke a bit of additional indigestion.
Over the past couple of Tampa Bay Rays seasons that Rays Season Ticket holders have seen some of their past ” advantages” going by the wayside. We used to get one of every promotional item, plus had an end-of-the-season Team Photo Day with the Rays players to get memorable photos to put on our face book pages or computer screensavers. We were a bit spoiled at times and got used to getting the “star” treatment from the Season Ticket Sales Department at every turn.
But the scene that still stays deep within my mind is not the photo of me helping myself to the yellow chocolate sauce fountain, but of Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes holding court at the end of the bar just to the left as you entered the arcade. Gomes was in hid element that night, shaking hands and hugging friends, plus raising a toast or two to the Rays success. And hidden just a few feet behind Gomes was Maddon who was sitting there with several fans discussing all kinds of things besides baseball and seeming to really enjoy himself. But the best part was seeing Rays players like Scott Kazmir playing an NBA video game with a younger Rays fans and getting his booty kicked, but loving every minute of it.
It is a time I that is near and dear to my heart, because as an ex-football player, I always cherished these special times with the team’s fans to not only take photos and talk about other things outside of baseball, but to show the “human” side of ourselves to those same fans.
But this Rays team is certainly one of the most open and fan-friendly teams I have ever seen around baseball. They respect the way the fans support and try and use noise either by cowbells or their voices to show audible support for the team. And the many home-made or professionally-made signs by Rays fans show they have their players back.
I stood there at 6 pm just chuckling while viewing one of the wildest sights of my life just coming into focus from the golf course. I had just gotten back to the Bayou Club clubhouse area after going over to the post-celebration hot spot, the Courtside Grille, to help set-up some of the preparations for that nights Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic awards presentation and silent auction event. And coming into focus was the wild pack of fastly approaching golf carts screaming at full speed towards our tiny segment of concrete at the final Check-In point.
It looked more like a massive invasion of dark polo shirted special ops guys, minus the face paint, who had taken off just six hours earlier from this very spot. Between that moment there were chances to win a 2-year FREE lease on a brand new Range Rover with a Hole-in-One on the 16th hole, or a prize by winning the Closest To The Pin ball placement on Hole # 3.
And there was the extra bonus holes of beverage offerings and samples to mix with great conversation and tales of mishaps and great shots upon the golf course that afternoon.
But now just around the bend from the putting green, I could see a few golf carts playing an impromptu game of cart tag, but the mad adventure ended up with laughs and fond memories and no injuries or carts accidently finding the water or a sandtraps during a great day of golf.
I heard a great tale about how Murph, who most Rays fans know as one of the head security guys at Rays games trying to hit a ball off the edge of a sandtrap and ending up rolling head over heels into the sandtrap with the ball a few feet away.
Or of Classic golfer who had a set of furry golf club tops that looked exactly like the gopher from “Caddyshack” and also carried with him on the course an animated plastic Carl the Greenskeeper statue that played snippets and lines from the movie. And during this Scramble event, he was known to hit the red button and send a loud vocal message like “It in the hole!” just as his fellow pairing members were beginning their backswing or even putting.
I heard about a multitude of shots slicing or hooking with the impromptu wind gusts, but was glad to learn that there were no broken windows or extreme shots near pools or trees lining the golf course.
Instead I heard the echoes of plans and pleas to their fellow golfers’ to come out to the Courtside Grille for some 19th hole post-event fun and relive the great golf stories told by the other pairings in the tourney. I was standing at the epicenter of the conclusion of the physical part of the Toby Hall & Friend Golf Classic, and within thirty minutes, this same group of golfers would again converge and reconnect with a celebration of the day, and a fond rememberance of the windy drives, missed shots or unexpected birdie putts.
There were pleads to some golfers to come out and have fun for a few hours, and others who eventually caved in and put on the red wristband and showed up to actually enjoy themselves laughing and conversing with the crowds at Courtside Grille. And for me it was another amazing chapter to this ever unfolding day.
I talked a bit with Matt Gieger, the former NBA star and one of the owners of the Courtside Grille, and he even remembered meeting me a long time ago when I was a Evening Independent Sports Correspondent doing High School Basketball games, including interviewing him after a game at Countryside High School.
This golf classic provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who I used to sit with in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe for years shagging B P foul balls and actual Rays game balls. Keith and his girlfriend Rose actually introduced me to Tovy Hall for the first time. Keith was even featured as a caddy during a Rays commercial segment featuring Rocco Baldelli and the Happy Heckler a few years ago.
I learned that night that Rose’s son, Tommy will be working with Guy Gallagher in the Visitor’s Clubhouse at the Trop. during 2010, which should be an amazing opportunity for him to gain some valuable experience as he goes on to pursue a possible career in Sports Medicine.
We reconnected while waiting for the Golf Classic to begin in the clubhouse, and he called another mutual friend of ours, Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, who was now sporting some new chin hairs up to Courtside Grille for some of the post event fun. Cursi told me about his recent wedding and honeymoon down in the Carribean and how amazingly warm and a perfect setting to get away from baseball and the cold streak Florida was hit with back in early December 2009.
Got a chance to talk with Rays reliever Dan Wheeler about his 2-week vacation to Italy this off season and how it was an experience beyond words and the ultimate trip of his life. Got another opportunity to chat with ex-Rays fan favorite Jorge Cantu, who just got a nice raise from the Marlins about his excitement over his team’s chances and that he should be with the then Miami Marlins when they play their first game in that new retractable roof stadium and finally put an end to those dastardly rain delays that had become commonplace in past Marlins contests.
I talked a bit about the city of Seattle with new Mariner’s First Baseman Casey Kotchman who was traded to Seattle this off season and is really looking forward to playing in Safeco Field because of his past success playing in that stadium. We also chatted about his time in Boston and playing in historic Fenway Park before getting back to the wide variety of dining options in Seattle like the Metropolitan Grille, the great abundance of fresh seafood,or a simple late night breakfast adventure at Beth’s Cafe.
And with our talk, I began to miss these types of events and the great times associated with them that I sometimes used to frown upon in my football past.
I had a few years of doing a lot of charity fundraising activities when I was playing football, but I was not an avid golfer beyond a little putt-putt, and that put a crimp in the social fabric of spending times like these with some of my fellow players back in the late 80’s and 90’s.
But I still contributed to events and went to other events featuring billards or bowling tourneys. But now I really regret becoming distant and unattached over the last several years and missing the great times playing or even attending fundraising tournaments set-up by fellow players for their charities or foundations.
The night was filled with great moments like the announcement that boxer Winky Wright and Jorge Cantu’s pairings won First Place in their respective golf flights at the days event. With both groups hooping and hollering for a re-match between the two pairings for total supermacy.
After the presentation, it was onto the fun business of an vocal auction for a pair of celebrity-signed Cornhole boards made just for the Golf Classic. I got to admit, I had never seen these types of boards up close before today, but I am going to figure out how to construct a pair of my own very soon.
If you have not seen them, they are a set of two wooden rectangles with a circle cut out in them for a beanbag to fall through. I had seen them on television at Ohio State and Gator tailgating parties before games, but had never been brought into “the culture” of the Cornboard before that night.
Toby Hall served as the Master of Ceremonies and Auctioneer, and he began first by thanking everyone involved in the Golf classic and gave out the plaques to the Golf Classic winners. Then began the bidding auction of a Cornhole board set. Each board piece had the identical signature of every celebrity participants of the golfing event in black Sharpie upon its flat surface. The bidding started at $ 250., but quickly rose higher and higher as the adrenaline began to build in the room.
There was one guy, who was a member of one of the pairings basically bidding against one athlete on the other side of the bar wanting that signed Cornhole treasure. Back and forth they both went until finally at that golden $ 500. threshold, the bidding quickly ended, and the excited winner bounced triumphantly up to claim his new prize.
The funniest part of it all is that his wife was more excited than he was to win it, and was screaming and jumping up and down kissing the board and him simultaniously as he paid for the item. I actually did bid on one of the silent auction items, a set of GH Mumm’s champagne glasses that would go great with my signed 2008 Rays Playoff signed champagne bottle. Sure I got something that will add to my ever-expanding clutter of Rays stuff, but I also wanted to somehow give something back after spending such a great day with some great athletes.
The true winner of the night was the Miracle League of Florida who got the proceeds of this Golf Classic to help build a state-of-the-art field in Hillsborough County. I learned that night that there are currently 100 Miracle League fields completed in the United States, and another 100 are currently under construction and the league now serves over 80,000 chldren and young adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the game of baseball.
And the Miracle League has a awesome overall goal of establishing 500 fields and expanding to help over 1.3 million league members around the world enjoy the thrill of baseball and some physical interaction with fellow players. I love their organization’s motto: “Every Child Derseves A Chance to Play Baseball”.
As the night drew to a close, the same wild man who had been such a whirlwind of activity on the golf course had some how commandeered the use of a digital camera and was taking expose’ photos of the crowd of guests lining the bar area and the surrounding tables. With his vocal pleas of “Work it girl” or “Show me sassy” he brought the event back to an instant state of reality that we were celebrating a fantastic day and forming some great memories to tell again and again during the season.
But it will be moments like this being told in clubhouses all over MLB that will garner extra exposure and attention to the Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic and hopefully lead to expanding the field in the coming years. The players going back to their respective teams talking about this event will bring it to gain more prestige in the coming years.
I want to thank Toby Hall and Tracey Ringstaff for letting me get close with some old friends and helping out during this great event. I truly forged some great memories that day/night. I learned after I got home about Hall’s deal with Texas, but I know he would rather remember that night as a celebration for the Miracle League, and not about his Rangers signing.
Showing local support for the charities/foundations of our athletes is very important in this time of economic struggles. The usual revenue resources have begun to stretch extremely thin and the numbers and amounts of contributions some times trickle down slower and prolong the goals of these events. but events like this Golf Classic help re-establish a network of helping other organizations and leagues within our local communities.
I ask only of you that the next time you come to a baseball game and a group of anxious kids in baseball jerseys asks for a single dollar donation, please give to them so they can enjoy playing this great game. So you might have to drink a medium instead of a large drink…It is no biggie, but to that group of kids, it could be the difference in going to an out-of-state baseball tournament or staying home and missing out on a lifetime adventure, or a character building moment…..
I guess the Toby Hall Golf Classic got me to remember that even a small amount of time volunteering, or even change from my car ashtray can build to fulfilling dreams and goals…. and that might be the best treasured moment from this event for me.
Have to say I had a more than a fantastic time yesterday during the 2010 Toby Hall Golf Classic. Saw a lot of old baseball friends, and met a few new ones during the event and the social times later at the awards presntation and silent auction at the Courtside Grille. It is funny how I was just standing there helping both the participants and the celebrities get their correct size Addias shoes for the event, and so many people just seemed so glad to see me at the event. And that what makes that day an instant classic memory.
People were fast to extend their hand for a handshake or do a little chatting with me about a multitude of subjects before heading out for a round of golf. I felt like I belonged yesterday in that environment, and I thank everyone for that. But then again, I never been known to be a isolated hermit and I do tend to be a bit too outgoing at times.
But there were also some people missing that I had hoped to check up on and see how things were going with them, but they had to take a “rain check” on the event because of some great news and unexpected events. Within the first few minutes I learned that ex-Rays slugger Jonny Gomes was going to miss the classic because he had just joined the exclusive “Dad’s Club” after having a baby girl. And that former Ray Rocco Baldelli was going to to miss the event after some travel fatigue following his recent trip to Europe.
And that Rays centerfielder B J Upton, who also has his own golf event this week was actually currently up in New York filming a segment on the MLB Network that is making the video rounds on the Internet today. But also former WWE wrestler and Rays fanatic Brian Knobs was also AWOL for the event because of scheduling conflicts. But the classic also had some very familiar faces to local Tampa Bay fans such as World Champion boxer Winky Wright and former players of the Tampa Bay Bucs like Mike Alstott, Anthony Becht,Matt Bryant, and Matt O’Dwyer.
Current Bucs players Clinton Smith, Kevin Carter and Sheldon Quarles also came out to support the classic which was working closely with the Miracle League of Florida to raise $ 250,000 to help construct a state of the art facility in Hillsborough County(Tampa area) for physically challenged kids to get the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball. But mostly it was the Major League Baseball contingency, that included a lot of local home grown MLB talent coming out to support the cause and to have a great round of golf with their fellow MLB players.
And the Rays had several players come out and show support like Dan Wheeler,Andy Sonnanstine(who was late, but got into speed mode and completed the course),and James Shields. The Rays Coaching staff also had golfing fanatic (Third Base Coach) Tom Foley out representing the Rays staff. Former Rays players showed up and support their former Rays catcher in his foundation’s drive to help the Miracle League of Florida reach their goal.
Former Rays players like Trever Miller (Cards),Miguel Cairo, Jorge Cantu (Marlins) Chuck Hernandez (Coach), and retired Rays players like Doug Creek, Roberto Henandez and Jason Romano were all on hand to play in the Scramble format classic. Local baseball talents like pitcher Jesse Litsche (Toronto),Casey Kotchman (Seattle),Boof Bonser ( Boston), Gavin Floyd (Chicago White Sox), Denard Span (Minnesota). Also in attendance was a excited and totally gung ho Yankee prospect pitcher Christian Garcia that was loving the day on the Bayou Club Golf Course even with it wild conditions.
The media was also not forgotten as local radio host Fisher and the Rays own Todd Kalas were on-hand to show that the Rays voices in the poressbox and on the air waves were also represented in the classic. Former MLB players Darnell Coles and Casey Cox were also playing for the great cause. And during the event I found out that Romano had actually retired and was now working closely with Speed Gel, which is a cream that can help reduce inflamation, help heal injuries and relieve common musle pain.
But Span, who doesn’t play golf, actually stayed in the clubhouse and we spoke on a always expanding round of subjects, some not baseball related. Span actually chuckled when I mentioned where I sat and remembered me and how persistent I was to get his autograph. Always a compliment if a fan can leave an impression on a player. Well, I think so.
I asked Span about the new Twins digs set to open up this Spring, and we both were in agreement that the turf might be rough until May before it has some give and take while playing on it. He also acknowledged that the Twins might lose some homefield advantage for a few homestands until they also got to know all the nooks and crannies of playing this new stadium. But I also found out he also played football as a wide reciever before he was drafted into the MLB. Span actually laughed when I told him I took the football route and should have picked baseball.
And it was a great day on the links and in the clubhouse getting to know Span and other golfers’ in between holes chatting about the game and things outside the game. And even if the day did stay a bit blustery with huge wind gusts, it was a great event I will never forget. From the game of cart tag near the end of the event, to the congestion of golf carts at the check-in point where everyone seemed more than happy to stay around and talk or make post-classic plans at Courtside Grille, the day just seems to fly by in no time and the classic was over
on the links for 2010.
And I have to say I have not volunteered for a golfing event since I used to help out with the Emerald Coast Golf Classic (Senior PGA) up in Milton, Florida. But I would be more than willing to give time and my energies to events like this anytime and anywhere. Sure I might have started out just being the guy who help get everyone in their Addias golf shoes, but by the end of the day, I was part of the great day and wild times that will live on inpictures and conversations.
Several times that day Hall made sure to come by and thank me for my time, but in reality I did not need thanks, I was more than happy to give what I could to this former Rays that I will always consider a “baseball buddy”. Hall is the type of player I would give up almost anything to help him achieve his goal, or get that dollar amount for his cause.
Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him in my baseball world.
It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and they have been amazing.
I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking a few beverages and there with the fans. I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”
So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.
But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.
But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot? I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..
It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.
I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball. He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998.
And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound. Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education. Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays.
So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.
With only two members of the 2008 roster still up for Salary Arbitration hearings, it was recently reported that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro will have his hearing in Phoenix , Arizona on February 9th . At that time an arbitrator will decide between the two totals, one submitted by Navarro’s representative, Kendall Americo,and the other from the Rays representative and then the arbitrator will submit their recommendation for the players 2008 salary for the Tampa Bay Rays in a few days.
With the exception of Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro’s arbitration award totals, the Rays are sitting at a round $ 60 million dollars in payroll for 2009. That is a great climb in salary for the Rays. In yesterday’s blog I went over the season for Willy Aybar and my prediction of his chances to increase his salary to around $ 1 million a year. Rays G M Andrew Friedman better have some cards up his sleeves, or he might get his first loss at the Arbitration gaming table when Navarro’s turn comes up.
Today it is Dioner Navarro’s turn, and even thought the catcher lead his pitching staff by example in 2008, it is well known that Navarro has stood up and taken the lead in the clubhouse and behind the plate for the team. His confidence and leadership have skyrocketed since 2007, and he is finally considered a force both at the plate and behind it for the Rays. Navarro has submitted a proposed salary of $ 2.5 million dollars for the year, while the Rays have countered with a $ 2.1 million dollar figure. That is a $ 400,000 difference, or almost his entire 2008 salary ( $ 412,500 ).
To begin with, let’s get to know a little bit more about Navarro, the player before I post my opinion on his arbitration hearing. Dioner Navarro was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in 2000. As he rose through the Yankees system there was a day they could see him behind the plate in pinstripes. He was suppose to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada’s spot behind the plate and was to be with the system for a long time. But as we all know, baseball is a fickle mistress and she can change her mind in a matter of seconds about you and your worth to the club.
So in 2005, after only 5 years in the Yankee system, Navarro was given a second chance as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help behind the plate before prospect Russell Martin would man the dish for the men in blue. Navarro did his best in Spring Training in Florida and actually made the decision difficult for the team in choosing him over Martin as the Dodgers Opening Day catcher. But Navarro got an awful start and soon Martin was there breathing down his neck wanting playing time.
So after a period of time, the Dodgers decided that he would not be as adequate as a back up catcher and traded him along with pitcher Jae Seo and outfield Justin Ruggiano on June 26, 2006 to the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Navvaro came into the Rays lineup trying to prove too much too soon to the Rays and almost cost him his chance to start with the team in 2006. The team brought in experienced catcher Josh Paul, who had played with Rays Manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels to push Navarro to that next step.
Navarro did not hit well in the first half of the season, only posting a .177 average and had the Rays discussing his future with the team. But during the All-Star break, something finally clicked for Navarro and he posted the third best average after the All-Star break in the American League for a catcher ( .285). He also seemed to be able to execute a solid and hard throw to second base on steal attempts. In 2007, he also lead the major leagues in errors by a catcher with 14. Even with his great second half, Navarro was only able to post a modest .227 average for the season.
But good things were on the horizon for Navarro. In a series against Seattle, Navarro gunned down speedster Ichiro twice stealing in consecutive games. Navarro also upped his ante in slugging at the plate, posting a .475 Slugging Percentage, which was the third best total in the majors for a catcher after the break. But in September 2007, Navarro began to experience pain in his right throwing wrist and he batted the rest of the season from the right side of the plate, limiting his switch-hitting skills. 2007 ended on a high note for Navarro, and he finally felt that he could lead the Rays behind the plate.
During the off season, Navarro participated in the Venezuelan Winter League leading his team with a .312 batting average. Navarro came into Spring Training camp in 2008 with a renewed confidence and a slimmer body as he dropped weight while playing in his home country and came into camp in better shape than before for the Rays. He also knew this was the turning point year for him as Maddon and the pitching staff would be taking their keys more from Navarro and he was up to the challenge.
In 2008, Navarro’s batting average was consistently sitting around .300 the entire year. Only during a small slump in August when he hit for a .187 average and allowed his overall average to fall below the .300 mark, before finally settling in at .295 for the year. Still, that average was only 2nd among American League catcher to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer’s American League batting title .330 average. Navarro also had personal bests in almost every category but one. He did not steal a single base in 2008, and was caught 5 times during the year and the playoffs. But his 54 RBI’s were 10 more than he posted in 2007, and his timely hitting did produce amazing results for the Rays. But his greatest hitting moment had to be in Toronto on May 8th, when he came up in the 13th inning with the bases loaded and hit a Grand Slam off ex-Rays Shawn Camp into the right-center field stands to give the Rays a victory over the Blue Jays.
In September. he batted .317 , including a career best 9-game hitting streak. And on September 4th, during the night time half of a doubleheader he tied his career best with 4 hits in the game. He continued to produce for the Rays hitting a walk-off game winning single on September 16th against the Red Sox’s Justin Masterson to give the Rays their 11th walk-off win of the year. And on July 6th, got notice of his selection to the American League All-Star game as a reserve catcher.
In making the All-Star roster, Navarro became the first Rays catcher and the 4th youngest Ray to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Navarro came in late in the contest and lead the American League to their victory by getting a 15th inning single that was part of the American League’s winning rally. He caught a total of 8 innings in the game, and threw out 1 of 2 base runners. But it was his familiarity with pitcher Scott Kazmir that finally got the win for the American League. Kazmir was the last pitcher out of the Bullpen, and because Navarro was his catcher, it created an instant confidence and relaxed atmosphere to take the game away from the National League in the bottom of the 14th inning.
Navarro also paced the Rays during the playoffs in 2008. He hit a robust .293, with 5 RBI’s and made several great plate blocks to get runners during the post season. He truly showed that he was becoming one of the best catcher in the American League and was learning to take control of this young starting pitching staff. But one adventure on April 4th in New York city almost cost him the chance to lead the Rays. While in Yankee Stadium for the game, Navarro cut his throwing hand on the netting in front of the dugout after slipping on the wet stairs leading to the dugout.
He missed a total of 16 games for the team as he healed, but stayed alert and active working with the other catchers on the bench. This adventure almost took his season away from him, but after that he helped lead the Rays to a record of 88-54 after coming off the disabled list on April 22nd. But that would not be the last time that Navarro would face adversity in 2008. During a televised game in Arlington,Texas on June 10th, the audience and his team mate saw the young, quiet catcher become a team leader.
During the game, Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza got off to a rocky start and beginning to get angry and frustrated on the mound. During one mound conference the television audience could see that Garza was yelling into his glove out of frustration at Navarro and Navarro stood his ground and gave it right back to Garza. After the inning was over, both players had a short tussle in the landing leading from the dugout, but came out for the next inning and performed amazingly as if nothing had happened. That was the day the Rays got a veteran catcher who was going to lead his team to the playoffs.
Several members of the team expressed amazement that Navarro went after Garza with such confidence, but welcomed the sight as the killer instinct taking hold of him and sparking him to action. I know I felt that the event actually did more good for Navarro than he imagined at the moment. But from that point on, it seemed that Garza and the rest of the young staff followed Navarro’s lead and it got them into the World Series. Behind the plate, Navarro also had one of his best seasons as a catcher.
In 2008, he carried a 984 fielding average in 2008, a huge improvement over 2007. And in that span, he did not commit his first error until July 1st, in his 428th chance. He also was ranked 4th in the American League among catcher for the year, and was 2nd in the AL, and 3rd in the majors throwing out runners with a 34.8 percent success rate. Among A L catcher with at least 100 games player, only Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach ( 36 ), also an ex-Yankee, allowed less stolen bases than Navarro’s 42 in 2008.
So as the statistics and the facts show, Navarro stepped forward in 2008 to help both the Rays lead the American League East champs to the World Series, but also step up as a clubhouse leader. He showed that the promise he had in 2000 was still alive and well in him and he brought it out for the entire league to see both during the All-Star game and in the 2008 playoffs. So is it enough for him to garnish a salary of over $ 2 million a year. In comparison with A L catcher, who have gotten arbitration raises in the last two years, he is in the top of the list.
I can see the Rays losing this arbitration hearing, but it really is not a loss for them. They will still have the services of the young rising star in 2008, and he is ready to go for the Rays. I can see an award of at least $ 2.5 million dollars coming out of his arbitration hearing, and might see more if they arbitrator feels he low-balled his offer. Either way, the Rays will get the playoff experience and confidence to go higher in 2009. Navarro might not be the household name anymore in New York, but in Tampa Bay, he is the shining star behind the plate gleaming and beaming with a smile.
But there is one big decision that won’t so easy.
Difficult decision: Toby Hall
Why keep Hall?
The last three years have illustrated that getting a competent backup catcher isn’t as easy at it seems. Back-up catching prospects wander from the inexperienced rookies’ looking for a chance to succeed, to veterans on their last few years of organized ball before looking beyond the game for a job. Putting another year on the trusty backup catcher chart, Hall posted the best OPS for the position since 2005:
Compared to Chris Widger, Gustavo Molina, Sandy Alomar Jr. and one-armed Toby Hall, the two-armed version was a marked improvement, even if still below-average — especially considering he more than held up his end against lefties.
Hall hit southpaws to the tune of .377/.411/509 over 56 at-bats, with more homers (2) than strikeouts (1). Even while his overall numbers took a nosedive in the second half, he had seven hits in 21 at-bats when the match-up was in his favor.
He also saw significant improvements in his catcher’s ERA (3.68, compared to 6.12 in 2007) and his caught stealing rate (17 percent, up from 10), which isn’t awful.
The Sox don’t really have anybody else, as Cole Armstrong is still a season or so away at the very least. And even if you don’t like Hall, it’s hard to say he was much of a problem. The Sox went 22-14 when he started, a near reversal of his 2007 record. Perhaps they played better because his teammates were hoping for one of his delightful pies.
The case against Hall
A.J. Pierzynski is 31 years old and has a two-year extension ahead of him, and yet his plate appearances keep shooting up. He set a personal record for plate appearances while catching more than 130 games for the third consecutive year. Not surprisingly, he went into a major slump at the end of the year.
Hall isn’t helping lighten Pierzynski’s workload much, mainly because he’s so miserable against righties. He posted a .431 OPS in such situations, including a .321 OPS after the break (.133/188/.133 in 30 ABs). God forbid a foul tip ever catch Pierzynski the wrong way, because the Sox would likely receive zero production in his absence.
And one full year after his shoulder injury, he still had trouble generating extra-base power. Part of it was due to his inside-out swing that is built to dump singles to right field, but he lost out on a handful of doubles because he couldn’t outrun a glacier. Paul Konerko grows impatient watching him.
He’s part of the reason why the Sox struggle against the turf teams (Minnesota, Toronto, Tampa Bay). He can’t turn deep gappers into doubles easily, and he can’t throw runners out unless he gets a lot of help from the pitcher.
So what to do?
There’s actually an OK crop of backup catchers’ out there, with a few interesting buy-low candidates like Javier Valentin, Josh Bard and David Ross. But Bard is an offense-first catcher who stopped hitting (his rate against basestealers is worse than Hall’s, although Padres pitchers are more indifferent to runners than even Sox pitchers), and Valentin and Ross both lost their jobs on a bad Cincinnati ballclub.
Below them are guys like, well, Paul Phillips. That wouldn’t help, either.
Everybody else would cost more than Hall’s $2.25 million salary (especially adding the $150,000 it’d take to buy out Hall in the first place). So I see the Sox picking up his option, citing the way he handles the pitching staff and his antics as clown prince of the dugout.
Perhaps one more year off his shoulder injury coinciding with a contract year will show Sox fans they haven’t seen the best of him yet. Chances are he’ll make Pierzynski the most valuable member of the club for a third straight year, so hold your breath that he survives.
Pitchers usually do not have new pitches during the season that are effective, and can win them, ballgames. they sometimes fiddle with a delivery, or mess with the basics of a cutter, or a slurve. But rarely does a pitch make it past a teams’ scouting report, and show up unannounced on a MLB diamond.
On Sunday, Florida Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco used the unannoiuced cutter that he had been working on for a few months into his game day pitch package. It had the Rays a bit dazed and confused at the plate becuase of its great late tailing action. Nolasco came within 1 out of a complete game, which would have been the 1st one for Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Trivia Fact of the Night:
At the age of 20, Detroit Tiger Al Kaline became the youngest player to win a Batting Title by hitting .340 in 1955.
Open Letter to BJ Upton:
Dear B J,
I understand that you are still learning how to play centerfield for our team. I also understand that you will make mistakes and bloopers during this time. But, the play with you and Gabe Gross in the 8th inning was even beyond grade school baseball basics. I can still hear my Little League coach yell the basic outfield call-off play.
Gross heard you call for the ball, and being the seasoned outfielder, he pulled off the play, since the centerfielder aka “the on field QB”, called for the ball.
You then did not hesistate but pull up yourself and help award Cody Ross a 2-run triple for your efforts. Gross did you the same honor almost a week ago and it cost him an error in the play.
I hope Gabe has the idea now that even a called ball might fall to the turf until you understand how to run a good route to the ball. I rip into you here because I know you are better than this, not because you made a huge miscalculation here.
I hate to tell you B J , but missing the plays like this might setup an accidental meeting of the minds some night on the field, and someone might get hurt in the process. Please think smart and follow through on your actions for everyone’s sake.
In closing, B J , please think before calling the ball ( We all heard you call it in rightfield ) and then pull away from the falling sphere.
Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco owned the Rays on Sunday. His new pitch, the cutter played a bit of havoc on the guys. Nolasco got 12 strikeouts against the Rays, a season high for the team while also giving up 6 hits and 3 runs. The Rays now have 503 strikeouts for the season, which ranks them 5th in the MLB.
Rays starter, Edwin Jackson gave up two huge homeruns on his best pitches on Sunday.
Jackson’s fateful pitches were a slider and a changeup. Wes Helms swung at the slider, Mike Jacobs swung at the change and each swing produced a three-run homer. Edwin never looked to be completely comfortable or confidient in his delivery on Sunday.
“It’s simple facts once you know the chances of people scoring once you walk them,” Jackson said. “It’s nothing to be frustrated about. You know the situation, and once it happens all you can do is try and get out of it without any damage being done. And tonight, I couldn’t do that.”
Jackson fell back into his past recipe for frustration by now going 2-6 in his last 12 starts, and has not produced a quality start in his last 5 outings for the Rays. Jackson seems to be all over the plate with his fastball, which was his primary pitch most of the season.
When that pitch has problems, the rest of your selection also suffers. Edwin has to get his stuff over the plate to be successful, right now the plate is moving all over the place on him and he is lacking the consistant strike that could get him out of many of his problem situations for the Rays.
Just remember fans, last year Edwin was 0-8 with a 8.02 ERA at thie point in the season. An improvement, but not enough of one for this years contending team.
DH Cliff Floyd has been having a really successful weekend at the plate. Floyd went 2-4 Sunday with a single and a double. The double could have been a triple, but you could see Cliff flinch a bit as he motored into second base in the 2nd inning. Floyd is a lifetime .365 hitter at the Trop., 3rd best all-time.
Eric Hinske hit his 12th homer with a shot to right in the 6th inning. Hinske snapped a 0-11 streak last night with a 2-run double in the 1st inning. He has batted .292 over his last 7 games for the Rays.
With his 12th homer last night, Hinske took over the team lead from Carlos Pena. Only in 2002, when he was with Toronto has Hinske hit this homer plateau before now ( 55 games).
Jason Bartlett and Gabe Gross helped bring in the final two runs for the Rays Sunday. Bartlett hit a RBI-single that scored Dioner Navarro. Navarro had reached prior to the at-bat with a double to deep center field in the 5th inning.
Gabe Gross hit a single to center that scored Evan Longoria in the 9th inning. Longoria had walked previously and was on third when Gross hit the low liner to centerfield.
Akinora Iwamura started off the game with a single to rightfield and then stole second base. He was the only player on either team to attempt a steal on Sunday.
Edwin Jackson did have one impressive statistic from Sunday, he showed a really quick and accurate pick-off move to get Jeremy Hermida at first in the first inning. Jackson had walked him in the at-bat.
Jason Bartlett got another throwing error from short today with a wild throw that eluded Willy Aybar at first base in the 9th inning. Bartlett was trying to get speedster Hanley Ramirez at first and overthrew the ball into the 1st base wall.
Last Night’s victory gave the Rays their 8th straight series win since losing 2 of 3 to the Chicago White Sox in April. That is the longest str..eak in the majors this season.
Tha Rays are 32-17 (.653) since April 22, which is the best record in the majors since then. 45 of the Rays 68 games have been against teams over .500 this season.
Starting Tuesday, the Rays will entertain the Chicago Cubs for the first time in the Trop. It is also the homecoming for fomer Rays’ manager Lou Piniella, now at the helm for the Cubs.
As you might remember, the last series that these teams played at Wrigley Field was in imfamous Sammy Sosa corked bat incident in the first game of that series.
Former Ray Toby Hall was catching when Sosa’s bat broke on a play and showed a cork-like substance in the barrell.
Current Rays Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli are the only Rays still with the team and to have played in that series.
I give credit where credit is due. The Evil Empire came in and played two great game against us. Now back to the blog.
Trivia Fact of the Night:
The Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team to purchase their own airplane in January 1957.
The Good,The Bad,and The Ugly.
The Ageless Good
I have to admit, when the Rays
announced earlier in the Spring that they signed Mike DeFelice to a
minor league contract, I thought it might be as a coach. As many of you
know, Mike was one of the original catchers with the 1997 team.
DeFelice has been around the block a few times and has had his shares
of ups and downs.
But, this season when Dioner
Navarro went down with his freak accident in New York, it was a godsend
that Mike was there to fill the spot. Since he has come on, De Felice
has hit .429 in his short time up with the Rays this season. In that time, Mike has collected 4
RBI’s in his 10 at bats. That is right, Mike has only batted 14 times
this season and has driven in 4 runs as a backup to Shawn Riggans.
DeFelice is also carrying a .929 OPS with him this time up with the
Mike is a superb game caller and
is an instant coach for these young pitchers. He has the insight and
the ability to see the trouble brewing and try and squash it before it
festers and get nasty.
For that reason, Mike is my main “Good” guy of the night. I do have a few other who needs some press as Honorable Mentions:
*** Rays First baseman Carlos Pena
saved a few runs with his great glove work at first tonight. First he
stopped a rocket off the bat of the Yankees’ Robinson Cano. Pena
snuffed the play diving to his left just shy of the line and stepped on
the bag to squash the Yankees efforts in the Top of the 6th Inning.
** Designated Hitter Jonny Gomes
continues to be on a RBI tear as he had another tonight and went 2-4 to
raise his average to .296.
* The first star goes to the team
for their display of spirit and team unity by all wearing Jackie
Robinson’s number “42” this season. Last year only Carl Crawford wore
the retired number of the first African-American to play in the MLB.
Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It’s an honor the way certain clubs are wearing 42 — the whole
team, like our team,” Zimmer said. “I just look back and just think of
how lucky I am to play on the same team with him.
“I wasn’t there in the early days, when he really had to go
through hell, as they say; it had lessened by the time I got there, but
it was still tough. He had to be a very strong man, to go through the
whole ordeal that he went through, no doubt.”
Tonight’s game showed a few spots
in the Rays armor that need to improve if this team is to tackle the
upward climb in the American League East. The Rays knocked out 10 hits
tonight, but left 9 men stranded on the base paths.
In order for this team to win “the
close ones”, like the last two games, they will need to figure out that
formula that is missing when the pressure is on for runs. I am not
demeaning the coaching staff or the players here, I just see a glaring
issue that might just be a simple adjustment in mindset or thinking on
the field at times.
I have all the confidence in the world that this problem will be solved soon, and with great results.
I never saw our team lay down and
quit tonight, or even show signs of let down, but the faces on the
Bullpen bench were speaking volumes from my sight line. It was a face
like, “Here we go again.” That mental clog can fester into a
bad attitude and confidence for our relievers. I know they are not the
kind of guys to quit, or even not make the ultimate performance for
I just know from playing on
borderline losing teams in High School and College, that the mindset
can destroy even the best of intentions. I know who;s faces had that
look, and one was inserted in the game tonight.
This team is so much better than
our record. And we better start believing that, or we will be looking
up at four teams the rest of the season. I believe in this team. I have 100
percent confidence in their abilities and skills. And I want to be here
to celebrate the highs with them in September or beyond.
Let’s Go Rays (Banging my cowbell)
Former Rays Player of the Night:
Julio Lugo of the Boston Red Sox is my former Rays
player of the night for going 3-4 tonight in the Sox’s 5-3 victory over
the Cleveland Indians. Lugo is currently batting .280 for the season and has 14 hits already for the year.
The Rays are leaving town tonight for the cool confines of the Metro dome for two games against the Minnesota Twins. This is the first regular season series for the teams,
and the first time these teams have played since their big trade this
past off season that sent Brendan Harris and Delmon Young to the North
Both games will be on television, so check your local lisitngs or MLB TV.
See you at the Trop. on Friday to welcome Ozzie Guillen
and his Chicago White Sox into town for a weekend series. This weekend,
former Ray Toby Hall should see action behind the plate.