Results tagged ‘ Trop ’

Welcome Back Baseball, I Really Missed You

So as we begin the journey on Day 1 of a whirlwind 180-day Major League Baseball adventure that will wind and spiral through the pits and summits of another season of baseball, nothing feels better right now than the warm embrace and joyful noise the Rays Republic has bestowed on our Tampa Bay Rays, even before the line-ups have been announced. No matter if you are wearing pinstripes or that shining Rays sunburst, baseball is back, and it is simply a grand and glorious day.

I have had the honor of witnessing 15 Opening Day celebrations with the Rays, and something tells me this one, the 15th season, will produce more thrills, occasional spills and a great surprise. From the vibrations that seem to be rocking the fabric of the Trop today, I have a feeling the Rays might just make it to a hallowed November date.

From an MLB schedule that reads more like an endurance racer’s worst nightmare, to the tears of joy and accomplishment as the Rays players help hoist another banner into the Trop’s rafters, baseball again graces this side of the Sunshine State, and the light beaming from both young and old Rays Republicans smiles tells us special thing await this team. Sure I might wax poetic today, but that is what pomp and circumstance is all about. To show the grace of the moment as well as salute what is in front of you as well as what struggles you have successfully completed and set aside.

Way before the Rays and Yankees take their spots along the foul lines, even before DJ Kitty and Raymond delight the assembled sell-out crowd, the atmosphere and positive vibes simple set this place a wash in an orange glow. Even before Rays fans and staffers man the huge flag that will almost stretch from foul pole-to-foul pole, the unification of baseball love in this community is evident, and should be noted. Today is a multiple celebration of honoring the past by hoisting another banner, while the 2012 Rays squad sits with pen in hand to write their own historic events and chapters throughout these 180 days.

For so long this Winter we all were anxious and wanting of the warm embrace and comfort the game gives us internally. Distractions like the Rays future stadium, political and legal ramblings that boggle the mind and heart issues, plus a boatload of possible Rays roster additions and subtraction that seemed to pout our heads and hearts into a blend destined for the puree cycle clouded our judgments and opinions, but today we are free again to openly confess our love for this great game, and it all starts with a child saying those immortal words….”Play Ball!”

Got to hurry up and go see a man about a foot long. Welcome back baseball, hope you stay around longer this season.

 

Central Pinellas Site is Still Perfect for Convention Center/ Stadium


Over the last 30 years during my road trips on I-275 over the Howard Franklin Bridge towards Pinellas County/St. Petersburg, my eyes have always been drawn towards a particular densely swampy parcel of land just opposite of the long abandoned Florida Welcome Center.

I have always puzzled me why some savvy developer/builder had not previously bought or built something amazing on this prime slab of real estate nestled just outside the mangrove wetlands.
It simply astonishes that this parcel of tall grass had not been the jewel of someone’s fast money making scheme, and was not being held vacant because of possible salt water intrusion or interrupting the natural flow of the the mangroves thickets lining the Southern most edges of this parcel.  

Sure I have seen a few scattered condo communities and office buildings spring up just off this uneven and sometimes water-soaked parcel, but even with the prospect of future encroachment by modern civilization to its grasses, this pact of land has remained pretty consistant and dormant for several decades. 

Even as I gaze upon this large parcel this afternoon, my vivid and wild imagination envisions a plethora of possibilities of what could one day be built upon this land. That one day a calling card monument could be built upon this land and become a regional welcoming beacon to travelers cruising Southbound on I-275 just a click beyond the Ulmerton Road and 9th Street exit ramps towards the hamlets of mid Pinellas County and St. Petersburg. 

Why has this massive singular parcel withstood the rush of greed and easy money to somehow be sparred by the decades of real estate speculation and explosions to remain clear and free of development?

Was there a wise benefactor, or  a possible (hopefully) dealbreaker botched by someone stuck somewhere within one of the neighboring office buildings without adequate windows to not build, sell or even excavate this lush green segment off the tip of the Howard Franklin Bridge.
Could it possibly be held in secret by a sly developer or real estate mastermind for the rebound of the real estate market future with visions of dollar signs dancing through his head. 


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Could someone have really envisioned so far into the future that this same parcel could one day  be the site of a great architectural symbol of the Tampa Bay region built upon its sandy soil and forever be known throughout the World for its construction on this very site?

That this same piece of land could one day possibly house the benchmark in stadium “green technology” while also communing and embracing the surrounding mangroves and oyster beds to showcase that man and nature can systematically co-exsist, even with the intrusion of sports just beyond the shallow canoe trails and tide pools? 

It is a divine miracle this same plot did not go under the blades of a bulldozer or excavator before now. For the sake of total honest here, this same parcel of soil was my personal choice for the building of a baseball stadium site back in the late 1980′s when the discussion first came up for the site of the proposed multi-use stadium that would evolve into the Florida Suncoast Dome/Thunderdome/Tropicana Field. It was just built 9 miles in the wrong direction. 

It is so wild that this little preserved parcel of land could one day be considered as the perfect centerpiece parcel for the building or state-of-the-art stadium/convention center facility that the Tampa Bay community has been seeking for so long.

It is still a bit mindboggling to me that this parcel of land has stood the epic test of Florida’s construction explosion and is still standing here, undeveloped. It might just be the perfect location to make both sides of Tampa Bay again embrace baseball with open arms from both sides of the pristine blue waters. 


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It is simply unimaginable that at this very location lies within a few feet of this region’s highest traveled throughfares, with great infrastructural groundwork already being done to improve the area’s roads and room for possible additional external ramps for the future. 

This parcel might need a bit more subtle tweaking and upgrading to take on the extra burden of game day traffic along with the usual commuter congestion, plus maybe a few additional ground transportation options to and from all points around Tampa Bay. This parcel of land sits smack in the middle of a ever growing section of Pinellas County that can support such a complex being built on this site, and should flourish beyond present expectations as both an entertainment center and transportation hub. 

Even the odd thoughts of reliable forms of alternative transportation options might have been done by accident in the past, but could prove a bright shining star to showcase this parcel as a shining example of what a stadium site should envision.

Because of the already exisiting business district around the 28th Street/ Carillion Parkway hub, there is an established Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus route that serves the surrounding neighborhood office complex/condo community to the west of this parcel of land that could be greatly expanded to ease the transportation burdens of fans or might even be fine tuned to the needs of a convention center/stadium complex. 

I personally like the idea of a year round Convention Center being constructed on the parcel to help bring an extra burst of daily activity to the stadium year round.  Top priority would have to be given to designing a feasible infrastructure support system to ease the demands of both I-275 traffic returning to and from Hillborough County at the 5 pm rush hour on game days. 

And if you really want to look into the future for possible traffic solutions, maybe the PSTA and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) can combine their collective resources as a community unit and effectively create a regional remote parking lot alternative or establish a multiple-county transit solution to bringing fans to Rays games from satellite parking lots or pre-destined pick-up locations throughout Tampa Bay. 


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The Pinellas County choice is simply ideal as it is situated within a critical epicenter of the cross-county area to give more access to Tampa residents and upper Pinellas and Pasco-Hernando county citizens, but might prove a bit of a additional driving burden for people traveling North from Sarasota or Manatee Counties.

But if it is a state-of-the-art stadium with all the bells and whistles to entice corporate America to expand their involvement and support with the Rays, then we are all going to be winners in the long run. 

This beautiful parcel of land was left in it’s present state for some reason. It has withstood the Florida construction boom, stayed true to it’s natural roots for decades. Could this be the ultimate locale for the Rays future proposed stadium?

Can we finally put to rest the echoes of discontent by the citizens of Tampa to their “bridge phobia” or the hour long commute to games and finally bridge this stadium location into a unified show of community support by the Tampa Bay region on one potential site. 


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Next time you rush down Ulmerton Road on your way home from Tampa, look to the northwest and check out this parcel of land and see if you can see what I envision on that parcel….

A beautiful retractable roof stadium with a natural grass surface situated right off a main span of Interstate, but with a unique nightly background of distant flickering lights of the downtown buildings surrounding Tampa Bay from any sightline vantage points.This stadium debate can no longer remain silent or continue with each side of the bay proclaiming to the heavens that their stadium site location has some thin sliver of an advantage. This one site fulfills a lot of the criteria, is centerally located, and has breathtaking scenic nature views into the eustary that is Tampa Bay.

This location to me is perfectly suited to entertain the notion and the construction of a new masterpiece stadium for baseball. People soon forget that the first drawings of Tropicana Field had the stadium open to the elements on its southern sideWith Minnesota opening Target Field in 2010 and forever leaving the Metrodome, the Trop will be the last of a dying breed of domed stadiums within Major League Baseball. So maybe it was some sort of divine intervention that left  this parcel vacant for so long and loudly screams “baseball stadium” to me.

Hopefully it will be heard loud and long enough for even the multitudes of Rays fans in both counties to conclude….This would be a great parcel of land for the future home of Rays baseball. 

 

Trop comes with Warning Labels

 
 
Brian Blanco/AP
It isn’t any wonder that after Minnesota Twins slugger Jason Kubel hit his high game winning pop-up into the center vortex of Tropicana Field that opponents came out of the woodwork like a bunch of festering cockroaches to condemn the Tampa Bay Rays home. Immediately after the ball struck the A-ring and came down 25 feet in front of where Rays infielders Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett were stationed, the catwalk carnage was just getting started within the media posse’ in the Rays Press Box. But with these two American League foes, this is the third time the Tropicana Field catwalks have had it say in the course of a Major League Baseball game. Twice the advantage went to the home team, this time, it went for a game winning RBI pop-up single for the Twins

And it is nothing new for the out-of-town media to begin to bicker and rant about the stadium they call an architectural pinball machine. But it did come as a surprise that Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who has been at the helm of the Rays for 3 ½ seasons became its latest detractor after Thursday matinee game. Maddon did everything short of calling the Trop a circus big top and professed that Major Leagues Baseball needs to make changes to the Trop’s present Ground Rules if the Rays make it into the 2010 Playoffs. This was the same Rays Manager who once said we had to embrace the peculiarities of our home field and use them as a unplanned home field advantage. Funny what comes out of your mouth when the “advantage” works against you.

 

And the Rays home is far from unfair or holds a distinctive home field advantage of some other ballparks around the country. Tropicana Field doesn’t have the luxury of a short Rightfield porch that Yankee Stadium possesses, or even the oddity of a flagpole perched upon a uphill grade within the playing surface like the Houston Astros. Each MLB stadium has it’s own distinctive advantage for the home squad. The problem with the Trop’s apparent advantages is that it can go either way in a matter of seconds.


Tropicana Field’s irregularities are viewed on a vertical scale, while those other examples have a more planed or horizontal distinction. I have even heard the roof support structures of the Trop referred to as the four rings of the apocalypse by a member of the National media. It is almost like the rings surrounding the playing surface of Tropicana Field are a vortex that white baseball enter, but are never seen again…most of the time.

Sure we have seen two different game day occurrences so far in 2010 of a hit baseball entering the upper echelon of the Trop’s air and being diverted a different directions, each with different outcomes. The first instance this season happened against the New York Yankees back on April 11th when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi protested that a pop-up by Even Longoria hit a large speaker situated in foul territory along the C-ring and deflected the ball into fair territory for an infield hit.

 

The Rays did not capitalize on that day’s magical event as they fell to the Yankees 7-3 losing their first series of the season at home. But again, the media decided at that same moment to bring up the particular interesting ground rules that pertain to this lop-sided dome,. Rules which totally favor the offensive team, and not the defensive unit on the playing surface. To quickly paraphrase the Rays Ground Rules, if a hit ball strikes anything, in fair territory, it is considered “in play” and should be dealt with accordingly. In other words, if it hits something between the foul lines, you better catch it or pay the piper.


And the totally obscure fact that Kubel’s high pop-up probably went vertical about 190-some feet before deflecting off a set of stairs that take people to the upper cupola or the A-ring, it is a magnificent blast no matter who hits it. And with as many distracters of this stadium’s roofing system, it was only the second batted ball to ever hit that section of the Trop’s roof. Particularly amazing, the first time also involved the Twins and Rays too. Since the Rays first game on March 31,1998, only 105 balls have ever come into contact with the Tropicana Field roof support structures, and none have ever been hit into the cotton fabric that lies underneath the stadium’s main Teflon roof.

Let’s see if I can fully illustrate the oddity of Thursday hit by providing that the Rays have played 1,028 home contests with less than 105 balls hitting that menace of a leaning roofing system that projects over 194 feet above Home Plate. That works out to one baseball possibly striking the Rays roof maybe once every 98 Rays home games.

Kubel’s high pop-up is so into the realm of being an obscure it is not even funny. The fact that only four balls have ever been hit up into any of the surrounding roof rings and never came down is simply amazing given the roof reputation by its own distracters. What is more perplexing is that the Twins are no strangers to the A-ring controversy on the Trop’s catwalks. Back on another afternoon contest on Sunday, May 31,2009, when Rays slugger Carlos Pena put the first ball off the A-ring but was caught by Twins reliever Jose Mijares for an out. And the only other time the catwalks have come into play when the Rays played the Twins was back on May 2, 2007 when again Pena hit a towering shot that deflected this time off the B-ring for an infield single.

 

The next day during Batting Practice, it was discovered that the Twins would have an additional helper up in the catwalks against the Rays as a mannequin had somehow been positioned just off the playing surface high in the roofing ring system with a Twins jersey cap and a right-handed fielding glove. It is not like the ball will always deflect or angle itself away from fielders when the roofing rings are involved. I remember a game one season against the Cleveland Indians and a ball went into the C-ring and was bouncing around on the flat surface. As both teams looked up into the rafter system, Indians shortstop Omar Visquel positioned himself under the ring between the infield and the leftfielder. Within less than a minute the ball began it descent straight into Visquel’s glove for an out.


Tropicana Field was proposed back in the late 1980′s when a futuristic baseball stadium was to be built upon the same site with an open-air concept with a circus tent type roof and water features in Centerfield like the Kansas City Royals Kaufman Stadium. It’s first design was to be open to some of the elements of the Florida climate.

 

 The final recommendation came that a domed stadium, or fixed roofing system had to be employed to further protect the playing surface from rain and gusty winds that plaque the region during the Summer months. It was a matter of picking your own poison, and the comfort of watching baseball indoors while rain and winds howled outside in 72 degree splendor won out to a natural surroundings.


Sure a retractable roofing system might have prevented 105 batted baseballs from striking the Trop’s present roofing ring system. And also of note, that type pf roofing system would give the Rays a chance to open their playing surface to the outdoor elements on starry nights or pleasant and cool afternoons, but that type of retractable roofing system was not totally developed by the time construction started on the then Florida Suncoast Dome.

Our parents drilled into us at a young age to “use what we got, improvise and adapt if you want something to work to your advantage”. All of us have tales and stories of making just that happen in our own lives. Tropicana Field is an abnormality to so many in baseball. Some call it and its crowds more like a mausoleum than a ballpark. But say what you will about the Trop., but remember this.

The Rays, even with their losing tradition early in the franchises first ten seasons has gone 507-520 All-Time at home. Only 13 games under .500 in the team’s history. Credit some of that to the Rays past teams, credit some of that to the fanatic Rays Republic, and you can give credit a few of those wins to the rings around Tropicana Field. It might not have gone our way on Thursday afternoon, but it distinctly our home field advantage….most of the time.
 

Smells like Team Spirit

 

Oh now that was fun. That was the kind of series I have been waiting for the entire year. You know the kind of three game set that shows you the grit, determination and the moxy that is still beating in all 25 members of the Rays roster during a three game festival of ray-dom. Sure you might say that it took a few extra innings to get one of those wins, and it took some last inning heroics to get another, but isn’t that considered a character-building moment that you dream you team would have before they make a run at their division’s top chair?

And so after the Rays sweep of their divisional menace the last few season, the pesky Blue Jays, we have another fly coming in tonight that could buzz the Rays tower a few times and make for another extremely exciting series, the Oakland A’s. And do not be disillusioned, there is an elephant on their team logo for a reason. This is another team that never forgets, never lets down, and is carrying a hot hitting Adam Kennedy at third base right now. Hmmmmm, didn’t that guy used to wear a Rays jersey? Oh yeah, before we traded him for the Dillon-aire.

But getting back to the last three cardiac-filled series, the Toronto-Tampa Bay series again showed who wants this right now, and who is about to have a drastic Fire Sale to maybe unload some older talent ( Rolen) or mis-guided youth that is not hitting, fielding or might already be dead inside ( Rios). I have to admit, after the power outage, the kid invasion of the Trop., and the constant numbing pain in my index finger from submitting votes in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote ( last free ad promo of the year) I almost missed an ace coming of age finally.

Sure we saw the best pitcher in the American League take the mound in the bottom of the first inning in Roy Halladay, but we also got to see some of the magic and excitement that David Price will have in store for us for the next……… well, a long time. Seriously people, the kid showed why we have so hyped up about him getting here this year. He cut back dramatically on his walks yesterday, which is a great aspect all in its own little world. One solo stroll to first is all that King David gave up to those eyeballing Jays. Oh, and they did try and test him a few times, but the strikezone was his real friend yesterday afternoon.


Brian Blanco / AP

And that will put a smile on even the most frugal and cold-hearted Rays fan. But people forget, we have had promising young hurlers before who have dissolved in front of our eyes. And even this season we have seen the trio that helped us land our first playoff berth go a bit south with no run production, or untimely meltdown of an inning or two and cost us a chance to see the orange lit dome from the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the Howard Franklin. Just because the team is having their second best record ever is not enough right now.

But seeing Price embrace and go back to some old thinking, like not even over emphasizing the scouting reports but going out there and throwing “his” game, it might have been a major break through for him at this level. We all know the kid has a million dollar arm, but like “Nuke” LaLoosh in “Bull Durham”, we were starting to think he might have a bit of a ten cent head on the mound. I am glad he proved us wrong. He needs to keep proving us wrong the rest of the way through the season, or at least for the next 5 years.

But it was no passing of the torch moment people. Halladay just doesn’t have the energy in his arm and body right now to beat the Rays. You seem to forget that he is 10-3 this season, and two of those great losses have come to the guys with the sunburst on their jerseys. And that is a major coup for the Rays. Beating the best is the way to regain this division and also set the tone for people to think twice before playing us right now. And that might be a better weapon for the Rays right now. The fact that team have begun to again question this team in a positive way is an indication that maybe we are finally over the hump and striving for the top of the hill again.

The last three games have given me this renewed feeling of the team getting it at the right time. Think about it here. Going into the break it was a disaster in 2008 after a 7-game losing streak to the Yankees and the Indians, people all around baseball were questioning the Rays staying power and mental toughness. Well, if we can gain some great ground in the next 3 games, with some help of either New York or Boston slipping a bit, we could be within 3 games of the top spot just coming out of the All Star break.


Brian Blanco / AP

And with a possible 6-game winning streak still on the stove, it would make them one of the hottest teams in baseball since the end of April. Did you know that we are only one win off the top spot since April 30th for wins in the entire MLB. From that date until today the Rays 39 wins are only second to the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers 40 wins apiece. That mean the Rays have fought from their 8-14 record on April 29th to a stellar 39-25 mark as of today. Let’s see, a 31-11 mark and we are worried about this team.

Heck, maybe we are wearing those dark-colored glasses a bit too tight on our faces. There are 27 other teams that are envious of that mark. Even the Boston Red Sox have only gone 37-17 since the end of April. With the Yankees finally catching the Red Sox, you can bet some of their eye glances will not be towards the Rays scores right now, but to see what the pinstripes are posting. That is a great thing for the Rays. We snuck up on the Jays and then put them in a vise and they lost 5 out of 6 against us in the last few weeks.

That thrust them down below us to wallow with the worry that the Orioles might get hot and pass them for the cellar spot.  But do not get lost in the fact that two of the Rays recent win have come in Walk-off fashion, which is an emotional rollercoaster of its own here.  The Rays have done it by timely hitting by Pat Burrell, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist. The three guys they need to get hot again to make any charge at the top spot again in 2009.  But then again, maybe this team is starting to believe in themselves again.

Some times I find that hard to believe, but as Rays Manager Joe Maddon likes them to think about a game for 10 minutes after it is over, maybe the mindset is finally drilled into their brains to not cherish a win, or discount a loss into bits and are finally “living in the moment” of the games. That can be a great weapon, that tool of selective memory and association. It can make you put your best food forward and forget the past within moments. It instills a eagerness to fight as if it was the last game, plus gives you the added confidence of not holding onto the past.

Ahhhhh, The last few games have had a certain scent to them that reminds me of something. It has that tart bitterness of realization, the after aroma of blood,sweat and tears left on the turf and the sweet sme
ll of victory. But to go along with all of that is certainly the aspect of winning their eighth straight game at home in yesterday’s matinee. Yes, that is it, that smell of Dome Field Advantage. The knowing and yearning of going to a contest and having that  flowing fragrance of  a possible blow-out or one-run win in the atmosphere even before the First Pitch.

The Rays have manufactured the second longest winning streak at home right now behind the 11-game streak set April 22-May13th of 2008.  In all, they have won 22 of their last 27 in the confines of the dome, which translates to the best record again in the MLB at home passing both the Dodgers and the Red Sox with yesterday’s win. The smell rising off that 29-13 record is again the basis of the Rays winning streaks, but it is also a indication that their earlier falls from grace when they played most of their games on the road were just figments of the real Rays team.


Brian Blanco / AP

Most people when they come to a baseball game smell the freshly made popcorn, the meaty aroma of hot dogs roasting on circular rollers. Me, I smell something else. I can smell the faint odor of fear right now in the visiting teams. The anticipation in their sweat of a long night with cowbells and loud vocal responses from the crowd. I love the smell of a ballpark. Not for the human smells or the food, but for that perfumed air of winning and confidence can just intoxicate you like a few $ 9 beers, but doesn’t leave you with the mental pain the next day of hops and barley.

It is the smell of victory, and it is still just on the tip of my tongue. It has no aftertaste or even a hint of regret. Like the 1980′s icons Kiss said so effectively in one of their great songs, I just want to “lick it up” and come back for more. Maybe this three game series against the A’s will also intoxicate you, and want you to again feast at the Rays table. Hopefully he does, and if not, we will get you soon enough…..trust me.

 
 

Longo goes Long-O

 

                 Rays 6,       Red Sox 2


Chris O’Meara / AP

Red Sox Amnesia

Is it me, or did it seem like the Boston Red Sox came into this series forgetting about the recent history between these two polar opposite record teams. Did the mighty Red Sox forget that before coming in on Monday, the last time they stood in Tropicana Field was to watch the Rays celebrate their advancement to the World Series. It close but no cigar for the Red Sox. So as Red Sox Nation is now throwing their hands up in the air wondering what is wrong with their team, the answer is quite simple and easy to digest. These two teams have scouted each other to the point they know what breakfast cereal to have in the clubhouse. They might even know the collective birthdays and anniversaries of every one on the two teams staffs too.

This is becoming a vital rivalry. It is not to the level of the dreaded Red Sox versus Yankees yet, but it can be if they let it grow and mature. Right now the Red Sox faithful treat this series only like a bump in the road, not a legitimate contender. Sure there is the wordspeak that they do not take the Rays lightly, but do their actions match their words……Not yet. This series had all the drama and the suspense of their other 7 series this season, including one where this unknown squad from St. Petersburg dared to come into Fenway Park and win two out of three games. Boston is beginning to believe in the rumors and the half-truths about this team.

They know the Rays can play baseball, they just have to believe it is at their level right now. For some reason they seemed to be thinking it is 2000 or earlier, and this is still a bunch of rag tag second-tier players seeking that last chance to play professional baseball outside of the minor league system. The Rays have grown, just like David Ortiz’s waistline to become more of a burden to these guys from Beantown. But lest we forget, after tonight, not only have the Rays now beaten the Red Sox in 4 of the 5 games this year, but here in the gentle burg, they have lost 12 out of the last 14 games. Make more sense that they would want a case of simple amnesia when they hit the tarmac at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Rays are being Pests Again

I was amused last night when a Red Sox fan behind me was jawing about the Rays and their base runners annoying the Boston starter Justin Masterson. I find it really humorous that he was sitting their complaining that our guys were trying to steal bases and not just take what the defense is giving them at the plate. I wanted to turn around and just give it to him by stating that it is an aggressive style of baseball that your own Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedoria love to play, but they have to be on base to get steals. Instead I just glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that beautiful 6-2 score shining bright.

But that is something that the Rays have done the entire year. They have been aggressive some times to the point of running themselves out of innings and scoring opportunities. How many times have Rays fans looked at that TV screen or the base paths at the Trop., and cursed a play or two because of the lack of concentration by a base runner. But that is going to be the style that we are either going to sink or swim with in 2009. It has had its moments of failures, like when B J Upton or even Carlos Pena get caught in “no-mans land” between the bases and have to almost concede an out. But then you have moments like during the last home stand against the Chicago White Sox where Akinora Iwamura was also caught between bases and some how got his hand into second base ahead of the toss to steal the moment and keep the White Sox from getting that easy out.


The aggressive style will either help or hinder you, but so far in 2009, the arrow is pointing more into the help column. Coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have a combined 189 stolen bases. That is currently tops in the American League, but there are teams nipping at their heels like the Texas Rangers ( 187 ) and the Cleveland Indians ( 184 ). The rays aggressive system has caught the eyes of other teams too now, and they are adapting their own set of parameters to their own offensive battle plans. Even the Florida Marlins, who are tied with the Rays for the MLB lead with 189 stolen base have adjusted their game to include aggressive base policies. This is the style of play that is evolving in baseball. Small ball is back in a big way, and the Rays are the leader of the pack.


Consider in the last two nights, both starting pitchers have been taking extra time and slowed their wind-ups and throws to the plate hoping to catch the speedy Rays out of position and get some easy outs and erase base runners. For the most part, it is not working, but they are getting their chances. In Thursday nights game, only once did the Rays attempt to steal a base of Josh Beckett. Carl Crawford, the Rays head theft took third base off of Beckett and back-up catcher George Kottaras in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was all made possible by a double by Crawford. The aggressive nature of the Rays is not going away, and teams are beginning to experiment with ways to combat these pests on the base paths.

All in all, the Rays have been caught stealing six times in 2009, which is pretty middle of the pack. The only team that has a lopsided stolen base to caught stealing ratio right now is the Toronto Blue Jays, who have stolen 11 and been caught only once. Take last night’s game into consideration. Masterson also began to make slower movements on the mound and also threw a few sidesteps to combat the Rays base runners. It had its moments, but the Rays still attempted their steals.  Crawford and B J Upton both got steals of second last night, but the Rays also got caught twice last night.
In their game of base larceny, you do get caught some times.

Gabe Gross got pegged at third base by Kottaras in the sixth inning. Upton got nailed at third base also, but in the bottom of the first inning. Even when they know the Rays are going to attempt steals it doesn’t matter to this young aggressive squad. They do not do it for the sake of the larceny, they do it for the pure fact that it disrupts the pitcher and can cause havoc in the mind. And that is a pure Joe Maddon trademark….The mind can win or lose games for you.

   
    
Chris O’Meara / AP

Does Tim Tebow Wear Longoria Underwear?

I found it funny the first time I heard that line that superman wears Tim Tebow underwear. The Florida Gator quarterback seems to be able to do what ever he feels like it in a game. I am getting the same vibe about Evan Longoria this season. He has just finished the fourth best April batting average by a second year player who won the Rookie of the Year award by belting a grand slam off the Boston Red Sox to send Red Sox fans either to the beer stand, or home. But people seem to forget that Boston put him in that position. If Masterson has been able to get the inning over with quickly, there would be no “Longo” chants bellowing in the Trop. Heck, if he had been able to do his job, there would not be a “6″ spot on the scoreboard. But the second year player is quickly putting himself up there with some great names to be considered again for dominance at the plate and in the field.

Sure the guy did not have a killer night at the plate, only going 1 for 3, but that one made the difference in this ball game. That one hit puts him solely into the lead for the American League RBI race with 28 for the season. And coming up behind him is team mate Carlos Pena with 25 RBIs. But that is not the only category right now that Longo is showing dominance. He is also the current Slugging Percentage leader ( .736 ) and also the doubles leader ( 10 ). The kid is beginning to get a cult following around the league, and no more chants of “Eva” have been filtering down from the stands. Maybe that is because Eva could never have a year like this.

And if you think about it, the Rays third baseman is in a perfect position right now. He has Crawford and Upton in front of him to help in RBI’s, and he has Pena and Pat Burrell behind him to force pitchers to pitch to him. He is sitting in a great spot to explode with number unseen in a while for a second year player. And with this emergence, he should get more than his share of votes for the All-Star game in St. Louis this season.  With Longoria and Pena setting up the first Rays duo to ever produce at this level consistently for an entire season. The potential of this duo is off the charts, the reality is that the Rays will go as far as these two can take them in 2009.


 
Chris O’Meara / AP

Sonny is not Sure Money

Last year at this time Andy Sonnanstine was sitting pretty with a 3-1 record and a 5.28 ERA. He had begun the season as the number three starter and was making his sixth start of the year on April 30, 2008. He would win that contest and become the first Rays pitcher to even win four games in April, plus tie the mark for the best record of any month by a Rays pitcher. Life was looking grand for Sonny.  But what a difference a year can make in a pitchers’ life. It is not that he is throwing the ball any different, or even is off the mark by a wide margin. small little things have seem to plague him this season.

His breaking balls is not producing the awesome bite or even plus or minus it had in 2009. This is not for lack of him throwing it in the same manner. He is still throwing it with good mechanics, maybe the league has caught up to him. He is never going to win your teams pitch speed record, or even make a run at a 10 strikeout night, but he has been so consistent for so long with the team that if there is a problem, it is amplified beyond the mound. This year is just an off season for him. He is losing the count he used to get easily with his breaking balls. Not for lack of it hitting the plate, but for people hitting him better this year.  

Take last night game for example, He went out there and did the basic Sonny routine of getting balls hit at people. You know nice easily routine ground outs and great fly balls that can be caught without episode. But for some reason, this season that formula has been broken at times and he has been subject to big innings. In the third inning last night it was single by Pedroia and a double by Kevin Youkilis that set up trouble for him. He ended up issuing a walk to J D Drew on 4 pitches. He then did the same for Jason Bay to plate the first run for the Red Sox. In the past, with two outs in the inning, he would have served up a nice ground ball to get the Rays out of the inning. But maybe hitters are wise to him now and are waiting him out at the plate.

Whatever the reason, the one run third inning for the Red Sox did not break the bank for him tonight. Mostly because two pitches later Mike Lowell grounded out to get him out of the inning.  But that with standing, this is a different Sonny on the mound this season. Maybe he traded in the “Volvo” mentality for a sporty new compact model, but it is not working for him right now. But I do not have fear in me about this. Sometimes a pitcher has to rediscover his stuff at points in the season. Maybe in 2009, he is having to do it a bit earlier than anticipated. Whatever the reason, Sonny has to regain that killer instinct that served him so well in the beginning of 2008. This team is going to need every pitcher to go out there and think they have a win every night. If that doesn’t happen, they might see themselves sitting in the Bullpen, or worse this year.

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