Results tagged ‘ Tropicana Field ’

Hope Sweetbay’s Consolidation Doesn’t Sever Their Rays Partnership?

The minute I heard about the fact that Tampa Bay born Sweetbay Supermarkets were trimming their store chain by 33 locations within Tampa Bay I wondered immediately how the consolidation would affect their strong partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays? Sure the chain will still have over 72 store in Florida, but slicing the region of 33 locations definitely takes a huge chunk of both grocery sales and local “feel good” exposure for the grocery retailer.

4E472E35E4EB4AA3B73088EEBDFFC0A6With the grocery chains long history of support and sponsorship with the Rays, you have to now wonder with 33 of their Tampa Bay stores being vacated just about the time for the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training if the close and intimate relationship the Rays and the grocery chain had for so many Major League Baseball seasons might also becoming to a haste conclusion.

The chain became the first supermarket chain to join with the Rays back in September 2008 as the Rays were experiencing their “magical season of baseball”, when Sweetbay joined forces with the Rays by signing a multi-year partnership deal with the MLB franchise. From that moment on, the team and the grocery chain found interesting and unique ways to join bring the game of baseball into their stores.

main_promo_play-ball-kidWith Sweetbay’s consolidation announcement there is a boatload of questions without plausible answers at this time as to the continuation of such Rays game day experiences as the Rays Bat Kid of the game who loud and proudly announced that classic phrase “Play Ball!” before every Rays home game over the last few seasons. Sure the co-sponsor of the event, Aquafina/Pepsi could take the reins and make a smooth transition, but the fact remains, Sweetbay had a deeper impact on our Rays experience than we all realize.

018Could there be a naming change now for the former Sweetbay High-5 station manned by Rays players during the last 2 Rays Fan Fest where kids got to get a high-5 from Rays players and Coaches as they rounded Third and came into Home Plate. Most people might not remember, but Sweetbay was also one of the corporate sponsors of the Rays 2011 Fan Fest as well as hosting Rays players autograph signing within their stores.

Sweetbay also provided a unique experience back in 2011 season when they offered a unique Rays game day experience during a Matt Joyce autograph signing at their North Dale Marby location. Fans who donated a 4-pack of fruit cup to the Feeding America’s Kids Cafe within the store were then eligible for a drawing to get 4 Rays home game tickets, 4 batting practice field passes, and a Matt Joyce signed bat during that season. The Rays and Joyce also premiered a special edition Rays set of players card on that date with Joyce personally signing his card for all in attendance

b4s_raysdog070810bw_129946cSweetbay was also the first Tampa Bay area store to carry the same Kayem brand hot dogs sold during Rays home games at Tropicana field in their store locations throughout Tampa Bay to give fans a chance to also enjoy the same great hot dog taste while watching Rays away game broadcasts in the comfort of their own homes or backyards. And who could forget their annual $1,000 shopping spree with a Rays player in one of their locations where a Rays fan gets to go wild getting grocery carts filled within an allotted time with the help of Raymond and one of the Rays players. 

Hopefully there is no huge effect of the relationship between the Rays and Sweetbay, but the reality is there will be less of a footprint in the region for the grocery chain and their long time partnership with the Rays could definitely be a victim in this change. It would be sad to see the chain take a step back and re-assess or remove themselves from the Rays fold.

joe_madden_2It is a bit unsettling to see the chain who first brought their new name to our eyes in Largo, Florida in 2004, and is based in Tampa, Florida might be leaving our Rays game day experience. Together the Rays and Sweetbay chain made a great partnership with great game day and hit it out of the park regularly with their community events that not only sparked large crowds and a fond following, but showed that a sports franchise and a retailer could cross promote themselves with such class and grace.

But I guess sometimes change happens whether we want it to or not. Heck, where will Rays Manager Joe Maddon shop for his annual Thanks-Mas event if the stores near the Trop are shuttered up?

Rays Million Dollar Question Mark

Sean Rodriguez

He was a Tampa Bay Rays player I truly thought had figured out his role and was about to ascend into stardom. Posting positive seasonal marks over the last 2 years, I felt he had approached the point of becoming more than Sean Rodriguez, he would be anointed with the nickname S-Rod, for he seemed to have everything going for him heading into the Rays 2012 season.

052712-5-MLB-Tampa-Bay-Rays-OB-PI_20120527194352739_660_320But even with the joyous noise of the Rays and Rodriguez today avoiding the arbitration process by agreeing on a 2013 salary of $1 million, the million dollar question still stands as to if S-Rod will be with the team on April 2,2013 when the Rays have their official Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles. Will Rodriguez again prove himself in the Spring, or will he somehow again find holes in his bat and watch his field play dissolve into missed opportunities that could send him again into the Triple-A penalty box, possibly bringing a unfortunate end to his Rays fairy tale existence.

CB Bucknor, Sean RodriguezI mean I for one did not, could not of seen the debacle that was Rodriguez’s 2012 season coming because ever since his arrival he has shaken off injuries, sting ray barbs and slumps before without any downward spiral to his career. Ever since his arrival into the Rays system as a player to be named later in the Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez had seen his talents and abilities rise like a Tampa Bay high tide. Adapting to every position the team penciled his name into from 3rd option catcher to outfielder and finally a significant cog in the Rays infield alignment.

The Rays 2012 season was suppose to be Rodriguez’s MLB coming out party with him entrenched as the Rays Opening Day shortstop with plenty of rainbows and pixey dust on the horizon finally for him. But as quickly as he could pick up a grounder and underhanded it for the start of a routine double play, Rodriguez saw his season take on more twists and turns than an episode of “American Horror Story”. Who in their right mind could have seen or predicted the beginning of the slippery slope that Rodriguez had to endure in 2012 with finally accumulated with him spending time at Triple-A Durham.

Sean RodriguezBut Rodriguez has always seemed to have a lucky star, a brightness to him that seemed to take his troubles and whisk them away with ease, but 2012 definitely brought about numerous questions, and a shortness on possible answers as to if he would again reign supreme at the major league level. Still through all this tossing and turning of fortunes throughout the 2012 Rays season, Rodriguez somehow remained “rubberized” and bounced back from his demotion and subsequent fight with a locker in Durham to again grace a Rays jersey in September when the Rays roster expanded.

Who would of guessed the same guy who appeared in 112 games (87 starts) for the Rays have to endure such hills and valley throughout the season. I mean this is the same guy who hit .248 over his first 42 games in 2012, then went into a unforeseen tailspin that saw him hit .185 in his 70 games after May 22nd. Was this the same guy who was a huge catalyst when Evan Longoria went down by pushing out a .300 average with 3 HR and 9 RBI over his first 22 games in May, including 11 starts at Longo’s Third Base slot.

Sean+Rodriguez+Texas+Rangers+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+VwZiev5f-d3lMaybe the pressure and added momentum to be “the guy” during the injury absence of Longoria stifled Rodriguez a bit, but who would of guessed that from May 23rd to August 7th when Longoria returned, Rodriguez would be mired only hitting .164 with 35 K’s in 53 contests. When Longo returned to the Rays lineup, Rodriguez had a short period where he hit .300 from August 7-20th, but it was too little too late and he found himself optioned to Durham when the Rays activated DH Luke Scott from the 15-Day DL.

You would have thought Rodriguez would dig deep into himself and bring out a thirst and hunger to get back to the MLB level ASAP, but after playing in only 2 games for the Bulls, Rodriguez and a Durham locker had some issues. Rodriguez only went 3-6 with a HR and 2 doubles in his short stint with the Bulls, and when rosters expanded, he was immediately put on the 15-day DL and appeared in only 6 games over the rest of the Rays 2012 campaign. Rodriguez had somehow during his 2012 season struggles lost his luster against southpaw hitters as he watched his career .260 average against left-hander produce a 2012 total of only .228 with no homers.

uspw_6551916But Rodriguez’s 2012 struggles did not only happen at the plate, for the first time in his career, Rodriguez committed 2 errors in 2 consecutive games (Sept 17-18th) after his reinstatement from the disabled list becoming the first AL player with multiple errors in consecutive games since Detroit Tiger Carlos Guillen back in 2006. Even the thrill of his 10-game hitting streak from May 2-12th could not dilute the pure fact question marks were beginning to surround Rodriguez and his tenure with the Rays.

So I guess the true million dollar question is not if 2012 is going to be an isolated event or the beginning of a trend, but more if the usual up-beat and positive personality and mindset of Rodriguez will return this Spring making him again someone to watch closely in those pivotal Spring games as he again solidify s his Rays foothold on the Port Charlotte, Florida clay infield. If Spring 2012 is an indicator, Rodriguez will again try to lay claim to an infield spot, possibly making the Rays again think long and hard about their shortstop position.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay RaysRight now there are meandering questions surrounding Rodriguez and his upcoming plans in Spring 2013 of turning his 2012 negatives into immediate positives and shine again in any and every capacity for the team. With his salary now out of the way, it could also clear the way for the team to possibly use him as filler for a trade, or if the Rays front office still has high hopes and knows his 2012 was a unfortunate blip on his career radar, Rodriguez should again climb out of this hole and be better for the adventure.

Seriously, if Rodriguez again shows not only the fans, but his teammates and the team’s front office his head and heart are again aligned perfectly with “the Rays Way”, the all the proverbial mini-Raymonds will somehow again line up in a row on the chalk lines as Rodriguez again shows his renewed vigor, vitality, brilliance and resilience that could erase every one of those current swirling million question marks surrounding him and his Rays future.

 

Tampa Bay’s Favorite Scapegoat is Hot-lanta Bound

People in Tampa Bay are going to have to anoint a new scapegoat in the Trop. for 2013 because their old target, BJ Upton train is heading to Hotlanta. We already knew the odds of Upton returning to the Tampa Bay Rays were slimmer than his waist size, but now armed with a 5-year $75 million dollar lunch pail, Upton will be meandering along with his family up I-75 a tad to the N L east contender.

All that stands in the way of Upton securing his treasure is passing a Brave’s physical exam, but we all know that is a formality as Upton was in the best shape of his career at the end of 2012, and possibly knowing his payday was on the horizon, might have tweaked himself a bit to excite just such a ample and multi-year deal.

It is kind of sad that some will be left with the image of Upton possibly not being a team player, someone who might actually understand the word “lolly gagging”, and lastly that his concentration on game day has been mistaken for indifference. Ask anyone within the confines of the Rays clubhouse and they will tell you how much this guy has matured since the 2007 days when veteran Cliff Floyd mentored the oldest of the MLB Upton clan.

Even before he stepped foot again in the Trop. after his first venture into the majors at 17, people held Upton’s past and associations with others against him, even as far back as his DUI in North Carolina and as a member of the Terrible trio from Durham along with ex-Rays malcontents Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. I seriously think that he had a black mark against him that so many would not/could not shake off him that he was doomed to be either loved or hated during his Rays tenure.

I do not want this to seem like a conspiracy theory, but it was almost like Upton didn’t have a chance with some fans in St. Pete even though he created “Upton’s Bunch” to help local south side St. Peterburg kids, or that he held his charity events to help organizations. Even after his positive on-field and off-field affirmations, Upton still heard the murmurs and cackles from the fan base about his long stride looking like he was moving at half speed.

Some even had the audacity to mock his Center field play as mediocre when considering Upton was projected as a speedy, well-tooled infielder and offered to test the CF waters as a challenge to his talents, in my opinion Upton nailed the transition, possibly transforming into one of the best Center fielder to ever grace a Rays uniform.

Upton’s game day demeanor also struck a chord with a segment of the Trop. crowd as he would become a bit quieter and sometimes over transfixed on game day that Upton made unthinkable mental errors both in the field and on the base paths with regularity erasing possible scoring opportunities because of him taking his eye off a slick pitcher or a catcher with a rocket arm. Suddenly he was badgered as being aloof on the field when in reality he was too concentrated on the small things and some major mistakes reared their ugly heads.

Upton even gave more fuel to the crowd’s smoldering embers when he would give long glares and a bit of sass to the home Plate Umpires, possibly branding himself with the guys in blue as someone you can get rattled with a borderline call or be caught wide-eyed with his bat on his shoulder with a hard breaking slider. Upton didn’t help himself with his batting swing mechanics and his prolific high strikeout totals every season.

Upton played in 966 Rays contests and leaves St. Petersburg with 8 seasons as a Rays that included 118 HR, 447 RBI, 232 stolen bases, a lifetime .255 average. But the stats so many will remember are his 69 times caught stealing, his 1,020 K’s and a total of 58 errors. Missing from even those facts was the shoulder pains, nagging hamstring and ankle injuries he played through for the sake of his squad. People have loved to downplay his outfield skill level, but out of his 71 career fielding errors, only 24 came when he was stationed in the outfield. Over the past 2 MLB seasons Upton has had back-to-back 3 error seasons proving his skill set has not only improved, but he is a capable Center fielder.

One of the things that personally rattled me coming from the fan base was the fact they all thought Upton was not “in-tune” or a leader in the Rays clubhouse. I guess they all have somehow forgotten Carl Crawford’s tussle with Pat Burrell in the Rays locker room when Burrell questioned Upton’s team commitment. For another player to want to physically as well as verbally stand up for you even in the clubhouse setting shows he had his team’s respect and confidence.

Personally I have known Upton since his first venture into the MLB a long time ago. He was a bit shorter, weighted maybe 160 pounds then soaking wet. Through his 8 seasons with the Rays I have seen him grow taller, confident and show the traits needed to not only be a leader, but also someone who can lead by example. I will miss Upton. Always made sure when I saw him to ask how his Dad and Mom were and he would cock a smile and a head nod.

It has been fun watching Upton mature on the field and off the field as a dad himself. I can sometimes shrug off a player leaving by using and analogy “it is all part of the game”, but with Upton it is different. I think he was wise to refuse the Rays offer of $13.3 million to stay another year. Even though some will say his new vista is just an 8-hour drive up I-75 from his old Trop. home, Upton needed a change of scenery, to re-energize his career and himself. Upton needed to go away to finally be missed…… by all of us. 

Remembering the Cy Young Winners 2012 Face-to-Face Meeting

Does it really feel like it has only been just over 5 months since the Rays Republic got to witness something that doesn’t happen very often. Even more precious than a cycle, more compelling than a walk-off victory, on that June 13,2012 night all 18,496 of the Rays faithful and a huge television audience got to see the 2012 Cy Young winners do their stuff under the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field.

That’s right, in a Inter-League middle of a three-fer mid-week series Rays starter and now 2012 American League Cy Young winner David Price went up against New York Mets starter R A Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young winner. Who could have known history would again assemble their names together and my mind instantly goes to this past game with such fond memories. I remember it like it was just yesterday as Dickey brought a 9-1 record into the Trop while Price stood at 8-3 and wanted to check another notch in his “win” column.

Each hurler got to toss over 100 pitches( Dickey 106, Price 109) in this contest, as each took the hill wanting a piece of this moment not knowing it would or even could turn into a historic event so many months later. As we now know, it pitted right-handed Cy (Dickey) versus Southpaw Cy (Price) with the Rays (35-27) and Mets (34-29) both sitting with about the same record at the time. On this night it was not the slicing fastball or shifty change-up of Price that glided a path for victory, but instead it was the fierce high velocity butterfly pitch from Dickey that made 12 Rays leave the Batter’s Box wondering how to get to Dickey’s dancing knuckler.

Only one Rays got to put solid wood upon a Dickey offering, with B J Upton finally stroking a soft ground ball to Third Baseman David Wright and beating the throw by no more than a gnat’s eyelash. Immediately whispers and shouts came out with different opinions from either side of the field. Rays fans cheering for Upton hustling down the line and beating the throw from a fellow North Virgina baseball teammate. Met’s faithful in the stands wanted a review, but the play did not call for one, and their moans and groans could be heard loud and clear all over the blue-hued Trop.

How could we have know that ticket stub would be a slice of awesome baseball history. A moment when 2 Cy Young players took to the hill threw their arms out and the visitor got the final cap nod and victory. Upton’s hit came in the Rays first chance in the bottom of the 1st inning against Dickey, but no other Rays hitter from that moment on seemed to have a viable way to beat Dickey. Even Rays INF Elliot Johnson turning around and hitting right-handed against Dickey did not produce a cure or show a hint of damage.

On the night Dickey set a new Met’s scoreless streak of 32 2/3 innings just pushing past former P Jerry Koosman’s old mark of 31 2/3rds innings did Dickey show a sign of mortality in the bottom of the 9th watching Johnson reach on a throwing error by Wright, then Dickey showed his human side by helping produce 2-straight pass balls that got Johnson to Third Base and finally on a ground out by Desmond Jennings the lone Rays run on the board.

So here we are Nov 14, 2012 and I’m about to hit MLB.com and pull up this contests again and watch these two artists paint their pitching portraits again on the big screen. Sure Price did not come out on the winning side that night, but this contest showed us the resolve and composure of the guy who would end up with his own piece of Cy Young hardware.

Congrats again to Dickey who fought long ans hard to perfect that knuckleball and to our own Astro’s Dad, Price on an Cy Young award that possibly began on that June 13th evening, under the Teflon roof of the Trop. This just goes to prove, special moments can and do happen in the Rays hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida under that tilted cap we call Tropicana Field.

 A link if you might want to venture back to my original MLBlogs posts for June 13th when I had a special feeling about this contest, and my June 14th game result posting.

Could Price’s Success Turn into a Rays Windfall?

This is the time of year when every baseball fan within the Tampa Bay region is anxious. This is the moment when every single fan has the air of an expert, with plots, sidebars and commentary on the team’s direction, points of attack and their own pick list of potential new jersey names to be sewn upon the Rays Carolina Blue unis.

This is that unscripted and unabridged segment of the MLB merry-go-round adventure where even the most popular and productive of names can find themselves not only trade whispers, but packing for new horizons and opportunities. With a mire tick of the off-season clock anyone currently residing on the Rays roster or farm system can not be totally at ease or comfortable because when the bell tolls for the MLB GM Meetings, it is a loud and clear signal that the first round of touchie-feelie wheeling and dealing conversations will commence and someone Rays tenure can be vaporized with a single late night ringtone.

Even someone like Rays ace David Price who has just been announced as 1 of the 3 choices for the 2012 American League Cy Young award, but Price could just as quickly find his name penciled in on a deal worksheet or scribbled on a team’s “wish list”. This is not to say Price is going anywhere, but if the perfect deal with the right talent that could right the Rays sinking offensive ship were to materialize…. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman might ponder it……for a moment.

Most would think it insane to even talk about Price going anywhere with his successes piling up during the last 4-odd seasons, but sometimes a player, even someone with mega-talent and rising potential can make another team so hungry to hitch their wagon to a player’s rising star they overpay and bring a bevy of goodness to someone anxiously wanting offense like the Rays.

Another odd factoid to remember is that Price has a limited and quickly evaporating fiscal shelf life as a Ray with his second arbitration salary a “gues-timate of around $ 7.5 million for 2013 which would escalate Price into the thin stratosphere of salaries for a player in his second walk down the arbitration process. That would put Price in the second slot in regards to salary only beaten by his fellow co-Ace James Shields who will bank $10.25 million for throwing the rock.

Immediately it comes to your mind the Rays would be insane to even consider trading one of their most popular and productive mainstays, but the MLB is a business and if someone is willing to part with an astronomical package…no one, not even Price is safe from at least a sitdown discussion. And we know all to well that the rest of his MLB peers have mad respect for the Rays southpaw bestowing upon Price the 2012 Player’s Choice award as the American Leagues “Outstanding Pitcher”. And these pieces of hardware that Price is amassing yearly only bring the cruel reality into the sunlight that one day Price will unfortunately price himself out of the Rays fold.

Price is only hitting the second of his 4 trips through the arbitration process and could command a salary above Shield’s $10.25 contract as early as the Spring of 2014 if he keeps moving onward and upwards fulfilling his potential. It’s a pity because Price has a chance to evolve into one of the greats, but this will not be realized wearing the Rays sunburst across his chest. Price’s Rays clock is ticking louder and louder every off-season towards the alarm finally chiming it is time for change.

I’m not forecasting, predicting or even remotely pondering Price’s departure, but the stark and undeniable truth is soon Price even with all his community upside and personality will make a trade decision a fiscal necessity. Maybe I’m being a bit too prudent, too calculated that possibly the Rays could turn Price now while his value is through the Trop’s Teflon roof and gain a top infield prospect, a few near the MLB caliber players that could fortify this Rays roster for the next 5 years with more offense, or maybe even a proven Bullpen arm to join forces with Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to form a tight 1-2-3 late inning punch.

Some times hard decision have to be mentioned, breached and put out into the open air even if they may be considered unwarranted or mis-guided by their timing. Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and even Wade Davis will have their names thrown out into the wind this Winter as trade pieces, trade considerations or even sent packing for financial or offensive relief.

Bringing up Price’s name here brings out the reality of the off-season that no one, not even Matt Moore who has a team friendly contract can be considered “off limits” or beyond trade rumors and whispers. Price is probably completely safe right now in the eyes of Friedman and the Rays front office. But you have to wonder, when a player is at their highest career point with them teetering on the cusp of maximum possible return on value, can you ignore the sanity of the situation.

I do not envy Friedman’s job because I would hate to be remembered as the guy who traded Price, even if it did make sense.   

B J Upton: Either You Love Him or…….

He has been considered a polarizing member of the Tampa Bay Rays ever since his first time up in “the Show” at the young age of 17. Every single member of the Rays Republic have their opinions on this athlete with some being down right founded on a few moments of lapse, or mis-understanding on his drive, passion and commitment. No matter what you views are on Center fielder B J Upton, within the next several days he can either be destined for another locale, or become the highest paid Ray on the 2013 roster.

In the next few days Upton along with his agent have a chance to see just what kind of contract might lie outside the confines of the Trop. The Rays are wagering Upton takes his show on the road and decides to sign with another squad so the Rays can get a nice added Draft pick as compensation for losing one of their brightest stars. People seem to forget with all the negative banter swirling around Upton that he came just 2 Home Runs short of becoming the first Rays player to join the coveted “30-30” Club.

Upton might have his negative factors, but his positives have emerged at the right moments for the Rays, especially in 2012 after Evan Longoria was gone from the line-up and someone had to step up and take the reins of this team. Say what you will on his stride in the field that does have a look of loafing only because his stride is so natural and his body doesn’t show the torque and awkwardness former Rays speedster Carl Crawford displayed in the field making similar difficult fielding choices.

We also forget Upton took on a position that was foreign to him during his tenure and converted himself into one of the best defensive centerfielders in Major League baseball right now. He had his learning curve in the spot with mis-guided routes and playing too shallow at times, but that adventure has long since been eradicated with well-time leaps, runs and remarkable plays that play on highlight reels still to this day. How soon we forget Upton was drafted as a shortstop and took a journey around the infield before finally finding his spot just beyond the outfield star burst emblazoned on the Trop’s Astro Turf.

So within a few days Upton will either walk towards a long-term deal possibly with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals or maybe even the Atlanta Braves. Seems more likely Upton would transverse his game into the National League than stay in the confines of the American League, but who knows what is rolling around in his mind at this moment. Change of venue would be cleansing for him and his game, but again he would have to adjust and refine his game to the rigors of the NL where strikeouts are more frowned upon and walks are considered almost doubles with his base-stealing abilities.

But a monkey wrench could be thrust into that plan just as easily if Upton decides he can accept a 1-year, $13.3 million dollar payday and stay with his old club. Of course the Rays would lose their ability to gain a compensation draft pick if Upton heads this direction, but they also know if he is under contract, they could still trade him either this Winter or possibly at the 2013 Trade Deadline and still get some sort of compensation for Upton. This might be a gamble Upton may be willing to take since he has deep ties to the Tampa Bay community with his outside charity groups and local South St. Petersburg, Florida youth groups that himself and Rays SP David Price put a lot of time into both during and after the regular MLB season.

Possibly the Tampa Bay community still has Upton’s heart along with his positive affirmation this team is just a step behind regaining another shot at possibly a World Series shot. With one of the best rotations and pitching staffs in baseball, Upton knows if their offense can find a rhythm and consistent groove, a spot in the October post season party is not only possible, but definitely achievable.

Maybe his recent strides as a key figure within the Rays Clubhouse could be the deciding factor for Upton that he is willing to wait a year and take a chance on the group that has bonded together so tight and knows something grand awaits them. With the Rays having their solid pitching aspect combined with the team unity displayed, I can easily see Upton taking the Rays qualifying offer and staying with the hopes of another champagne celebration or two before his final exodus from Tampa Bay.

Whatever Upton decides, I will salute that decision and will be happy for this Rays icon I have seem mature, evolve and become his own style of MLB player.

Sure I’m a fan who supports Upton with undying loyalty and pride having seen this transformation from 17-year old SS prodigy. If Upton should decide to stay, I will be there to shake his hand in February at Spring Training. If not, I will still keep tabs on Upton and his career since he was a Ray and was such a key part of this team, especially since 2008.

No matter if he stays or leaves, the fans of the Rays have to acknowledge Upton has done a lot for this team. Still even with that said, some will still remember him for the gaffes and strikeouts and forget about his well-timed Home Runs or terrific plays off the CF wall. But that is what happens to players who you care for deep down, they either steal your heart or break it.

Love him or hate him, Upton to me has been a key component of the Rays playoff and a player to remember. Some will read that line and scoff and bid him “good riddance”, while others will shed a tear. Upton has been polarizing as a Ray, that I will admit, but he is still a player I’m glad had such a long tenure with this team and maybe another 180 days as a Ray.

“Prey” or “Pray”?

I was standing in line getting a cool and wet Polar Pop fountain drink at Circle K this afternoon and accidentally spit out a bit of my Diet Dr. Pepper onto the clean floor when I spied a unique and compelling headline on the back page of an out-of-town publication nestled on their newspaper rack.

Upon seeing that headline, “Tampa Prey”, I did give out a little school girl’s chuckle and snicker, much to the chagrin of the poor New York Yankees fan 5 people behind me. But that is what late August has been for these two behemoth Major League Baseball programs as one emphasises growing talent from their farm system bumper crop, while the other uses their massive wealth to sometimes just pluck the ripe fruit it desires.

Two uniquely different approaches to the basic premise of baseball, and all it has done is produce the last 4-straight American League East titles for these two opposite ends of the monetary world. Some within the boroughs of NYC saw the Rays 2008 first A L East snatching as a gift from the “Baseball Gods”, and after the Yankees were witness to the Rays first banner raised to the rafters of Tropicana Field, they were on a mission to not let than happen again. 2009 saw the Rays falter while the Yankees drove their wagon straight into October, but crashing and burning before getting a chance at the World Series.

2010 the Rays basically took it to Game 162 before the Yankees and Rays budding rivalry ended as the Rays went into extra innings in Kansas City knowing their destiny as the Yankees played their way into the post season via the Wild Card. Back and forth since 2008 the Rays and Yankees have traded barbs, animosity and A L East titles with the Rays garnering their banners in even numbers years while the Yankees have dominated in odd-numbered seasons.

With this being an even number year, some have already speculated and boasted it will again be the crew from St. Petersburg, Florida who find themselves on top of the hill after October 3rd, but with 37 contests still to be decided, and 2 3-games series between the pair to still be played, there is still a large chunk of chances for either team to rise or fall. Even as the Rays take to the AstroTurf today at the Trop., this pesky Rays bunch find themselves 2 ½ games behind the Yankees but not on solid turf yet.

Even as the Bronx Bombers have dropped to an even 5-5 record over their last 10 games while the Rays have escalated their chances with an impressive 7-3 mark, it is starting to look like a possible replay of the 2010 showdown that came to the last outs before a victor can be truly announced between the pair. With the Baltimore Orioles slowly fading back, and Boston over 8 games out at this point, it looks like a 2-horse race for the 2012 A L East laurels. But as we all know, a lot can chance in a matter of 10 games, possibly making the race more of a jog than a sprint.

Still, the headline also did get me a bit concerned. Not that the Yankees will reach down deep into their historical bag of tricks and find a miracle, or even a way to sweep the Rays at home no less during the upcoming Labor Day series. There is still a span of 9 games before the two teams meet under the Trop’s dome, with the Rays playing 7 of those contests on the road where they boast a 35-27 mark. Then again, the Yankees have pretty much gone toe-to-toe with the “road warrior” idea this season sporting a 33-28 mark themselves to this point.

Some will quickly say the Rays are an unbalanced ship this season having seen their pitching excel while their offense has sputtered and gone silent on occasions. Even now the Rays are just emerging from that Perfect Game cloud and back into the sunlight sporting a pretty even-steven home (35-28) and road record (35-27) that shows that even with their slew of early season mishaps and injuries, the Rays have found way to post victories.

But just as quickly we have seem the Rays push out winning streaks and impressive series only to derail themselves a bit. Consistency from this Rays squad will devour and dispose of the 2 ½ game lead the Yankees have at this moment. Pitching staying stellar and hitting reaching new heights and distances down the course of these 37 contests.

Maybe that is why the headline of “Tampa Prey” seemed so humorous. Not that it isn’t true, or can not happen, but just as easily the Rays could provide another stumble. I am hoping the ghost of 2009 doesn’t awaken and take the glory away from this crew as the Rays conclude their 15th season.

In a heartbeat that “Tampa Prey” title could just as easily need a vowel change and become “Tampa Pray”.   Right now the Rays are the team with the momentum and chance to gain an advantage, but just as quickly tides can turn and praying could become a daily ritual. Funny how one simple letter within the context of a word can change not only the meaning, but the conclusion of the word.

幸福の小道 Godzilla

I truly do not know if the ever expanding legend surrounding this player has kept him on this Tampa Bay Rays roster. Some have been more than adamant that he is a shell of his former self, possibly dialing in his last breathes in Major League Baseball. I seriously do not see the reasoning or the dramatic prose of keeping Hidecki Matsui on this Rays roster.

Even last night as Rays Manager Joe Maddon closed his office door post-game in a personal discussion with his staff and front office personnel, I thought surely the fairy tale of this version of “Godzilla” might finally play out to a release or possible waiver. Not sure if the creature known as “Godzilla” has any feline traits, but definitely Matsui has evoked and used up more than 9 Rays lives in his short tenure.

I wanted Matsui to be a firm Rays building block, the keystone to a offensive revival of the Rays arsenal, but except for a few blasts more from the past than the present, Matsui has produced more blanks than lethal shots. It has now been over 3 weeks or 21 days since the “of Japan” demigod had a pair of singles going 2-for-3 against the Detroit Tigers on July 1st. Sure most will point towards Matsui only striding to the plate 15 times since that day, but with strikeouts to end two of the last 3 Rays last ditch efforts at victories, something has to give soon.

I truly want to look into Matsui’s Rays locker and find that lucky charm, that atonement symbol that has blessed him with chances after chances to provide defining moments, but has left us all wanting. In 20 plate appearances this month to today’s contest, Matsui is 2-for-15 with 7 strikeouts and has stranded 23 of 24 men who stood on base during his at bats. That statistic by itself lends the point of view that Matsui has performed beyond abysmal. I know Maddon has a huge amount of respect and admiration for Matsui, but I’m beginning to question the sanity of seeing # 56 in a Rays uniform at all.

For the Seattle series, Matsui is 0-6 and is scheduled to be again the Rays DH for today’s contest. When do we stop the madness and cut our losses, possibly calling up someone like Stephen Vogt again who definitely can hit better than Matsui’s current 1.49 batting average. Considering Matsui was brought onto this club to help with getting runners in scoring position across the plate. A .148 average in that category mixed with a lone Home Run doesn’t boast any additional confidence for me for the daily use of Matsui.

How can a opposing pitching staff be afraid of a guy who boasts a average that even Mendoza would shake his head at profusely. It seems right now that Godzilla’s fiery breathe has not only gone moot, but his been extinguished, possibly for good. Matsui started off his Rays venture impressively hitting 2 long bombs in his first few games, setting the table for good thing to come, but after that first volley of goodness, no Home Runs and only 3 RBI over his 30 games. Pressing further into the abyss we see Matsui has produced his worst year ever so far as a professional, and it only gets worse.

is not even an adequate field player or late inning replacement any longer and has proven more than a few times to seem lost and flustered out in leftfield. Matsui have only had a total of 14 chances in the outfield endeavors, but his lack of total confidence in the field has flashed upon his face as he moves toward balls in play. His last start against Boston on July 2nd, Matsui suffered a hamstring injury . Truly I think we have seen his last days as a Rays outfield accessory.

I know this is not the fairy tale ending any of us wanted for Matsui, but it might be time for the Rays to sever the cord. Matsui is not even a remote threat in the Rays offense that is currently ranked 28th in the MLB. He was brought into this Rays fold to be a defining offensive weapon, but has produced mostly blanks. Matsui was suppose to protect the bulk of the Rays line-ups, but they have done more to protect him than you can imagine. Maybe it is time to face the reality this venture turned into a horrific mis-step instead of a solid foot forward for the Rays.

After Sunday’s contest, the Rays get a day off on Monday before embarking on a 10 game road trip that will not see them back at the Trop until after the Trade Deadline, maybe cutting their losses and freeing Godzilla is in the best interest of the Rays chance at the post-season. I mean if Matsui was any other player in the Rays organization, he would have been gone long before now. Sorry Godzilla, it’s not personal, it the business of winning that drives baseball.

幸福の小道  (Happy Trails) Godzilla

1979 Defined Who I Became.

People always say certain years pegged for them personally as the “best years of their lives”. For me, 1979 definitely was the first significant turning point and first journey to the top of the see-saw climb when thing began to change fast and furiously as I first embraced life’s challenges and adventures. I was fresh out of school (Class of 1979), had a great job (Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and DJ/Skate Guard at Southland Roller Palace) , the vast horizon in front of me of sports, academics and even a few moments left in the haze of a Fraternity (DTX) house were unfolding from the first celebrations at midnight on January 1st, to the last somber and emotional moments that December 31st as I welcomed not only a new decade, but the final unclothing of myself as a “teen”.

1979 was a virtual time stamp of great developmental and athletic upswing for myself personally filled with escalating life moments that will definitely come rushing back to me like a Tropical Storm Debbie flash flood the moment the Tampa Bay Rays hit the turf with those retro powder blue and royal blue uniforms. “Turn Back the Clock” Night will definitely be an emotional as well as proud moment for me not only because I get to hear a band I treasured and wore out more than a few 8-Track cartridges on my Dynomite 8-track player.

Even the yellow hued stirrups adorning the Rays calves tonight will evoke a bit of my 1979 Northwest LL Senior League baseball moments. It was the year I got to stand to the right of future San Francisco Giant and Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson, plus the highly bright and audacious yellow mustard color scheme of the Rays stirrups tonight also were reminiscent of my own Monahan’s Shell team issued leggings that always seemed to fall down to my ankles by the end of the game.

I wrote a post recently on the Rays retro gear they will adorn tonight and how I felt they kind of copied the 1979 styling s of the 1979 Brew Crew, but in reality maybe I wasn’t fully attached at the moment of that post with the actual realization that this region could of ever been considered “Major League” by the rest of the baseball world in 1979. St. Petersburg, then known for its green benches and FREE newspapers when the Sun did not shine was packed to the brim during the Spring months with loads of MLB potential, but as the calendar always turned from March to April, the caravans and planes took our MLB hopes and our baseball idols away for the seasonal ride.

Might be a great ironic twist to tonight’s events that Earth, Wind and Fire in January of 1979 entranced us all with their hits “September” and Thats the Way of the World” during an NBC Nationally televised a UNICEF Concert. This was also the year the hit that instantly goes into the minds of people “Boogie Wonderland” and “After the Love is Gone” hit the FM airwaves for the first time en route to Billboard Top 10 positions. Who doesn’t remember roller skating to both of these hit at the typical Friday or Saturday night round-de-rounds on the skating floor either as disco dynamos or couple skating with that special someone.

Definitely going to feel weird tonight seeing the Tampa Bay Rays wearing uniforms that pre-date the franchise’s First Pitch, and even their initial selection of their Expansion Draft. With the entire squad donning time inspired duds from 1979, it will evoke a bit of memories, especially of my Senior year at St. Petersburg’s own Dixie Hollins. It will remind me of the year I “fro’d” my hair to honor a fallen comrade Al Bolden who was paralyzed in a football game that season against Lakewood High. It will bring back the sounds of “Rowdie Raccoon” as my favorite High School teacher Mr P used to call me daily because of my constant wardrobe of Rowdies and rugby attire.

The whole night from the moment I hit the Tropicana Gate 4 media entrance to the moment I again wander into the post-concert humid air, tonight will be both a love fest and emotional roller coaster that I hope I can truly stomach. Every one has defining moments in their life, 1979 held more than fist full of them for me. It was the year I finally got recognition as a ballplayer, signing my letter of intent that January. It was the calendar year I got to have a heart-to-heart and 3 hour clinic with the MLB player I idolized for so many years, and my game exploded with confidence.

From the moment of that first handshake with the immortal “Hot Corner” icon Brooks Robinson to today, my love for baseball expanded from a sport to a lifetime obsession as I got dirty that day guarding the line and gaining insight from one of the game’s best defensive masters. 1979 was the year I proudly adorned my head with a cap featuring that pesky Orioles bird, and wore proudly until the first cap went on sale for our then D-Rays. Tonight is definitely going to be emotional, pulling at the old heartstrings with a vengeance.

This was also the year that writing and journalism took me by storm as I wrote for the High School paper (Rebel Rouser) along with Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, all the while flirting innocently with Diane Spears as Mrs Tucker scolded me. It was the year of my first cover story, my first byline both professionally and academically, it was the birth year of the obsession I still possess with writing that is still prevalent and evolving. 1979 was that catalyst moment not only in my physical sports, but in my life development. I owe a huge debt to 1979 that I can never repay because 1979 for me personally was all about the skating, graduation into adult life, the music of bands like Earth Wind and Fire and the first evolutionary moment of my new found love…baseball.

Dance Party- Trop Style

I have always been a huge fans of Industrial/Techo/ Electronic or whatever name they are using for this unique and special brand of rhythm and beats. I was a fan of the late night DJ induced music sets on the FM dial in my younger days, pumping the volume as loud as the speakers allowed me sometimes feeling the windows rattle in the car. The intense thumping of the amplified bass seemed to coordinate with my heartbeat. Both pumping, pushing and coursing music and life into my tired body as I listened to it religiously like the Siren’s song.

                                            

That same vibe came back to me and about 5,000 other Rays fans who packed the AstroTurf of Tropicana Field for the Friday Fest Concert featuring International DJ Astrojack. This definitely was one of the loudest concerts held in Tropicana Field since possibly Janet Jackson’s “Black Cat Tour”, but during this performance, it was the crowd that seemed to have the choreographed dances moves. With the first note of bass, the assembled crowd began their rhythmic bouncing and hand raising saluting and following the grooves and pulsations streaming from the huge loud speakers.

Combining the mind-numbing bass from his selected play list with the electronic visual movements and designs flashing upon the stage and DJ platform, DJ Astrojack came to Tampa Bay to impress, and he delivered and then some on Friday night. Sure the Trop’s seating bowl did not have its usual filled lower bowl seats staying to listen and watch the performance, but this style of music is not for everyone. Even today dancing to this type of music has to be a crowd inspired coordinated dance movement complete with hands raised high, extended arms to the heavens and letting your body absorb the pulsations.

I actually enjoyed the night from watching the glow-girl with her lighted hula hoop, to seeing both young and old doing their own versions of the “Night at the Roxbury” head bops and accelerated dance moves. It was definitely a musical event either you understood, or shook your head as you exited the Trop. I ventured outside the Trop to see just how loud it was inside the enclosed stadium, and wandered over to Ferg’s and could still hear clear as a bell the music as it vibrated off the Teflon roof of the Trop.

 The orange glow of the Tropicana Field roof made this inspired impromptu dance party seem more at home, and I swear I saw the roof flex and move to the music at least once. I eventually strolled back into the Trop. and listened to the last beat as it made its way through the Trop., echoing off the roof and finally coming back to my ears still leaving it’s loud impression.

The concert was a success if you consider the people who stayed swayed and moved with the pulsations of the beats like blades of grass. I was exhausted when I finally stepped into the cool air outside the stadium, but the intense pulsations of the sounds tonight still had control of my heart. It was one of those nights you will remember because it was a first within the walls of the Trop., and hopefully it will not be the last.

                                                                                                                                                        Blogger’s Note: Is it just me, or does DJ Astrojack look like a young Carlos Pena?

DJ Astrojack  Flikr photo gallery

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