Results tagged ‘ Tropicana Field ’

El Presidente’ Again Has Our Hearts

He is one of the most beloved player to ever strapped on a Rays uniform. Beloved as much for the deeds and efforts he displays on the field as those done within the Tampa Bay community. Maybe it seems fitting with the 2012 Republican National Convention coming to Tampa this Summer, El Presidente aka Carlos Pena could easily run for President and could easily win everywhere but possibly within the 5 boroughs of New York today.

Can anyone else remember a Rays moment when we ever gave 5 standing ovations, and not just to a single player. You read that right, 5 times Pena heard the 30,000+ wedged into the tilted cap of the Trop call for him, cheer for him, wanting him to hear and acknowledge their spirited roar. Pena not only took a “curtain call” after his memorable grand salami off New York Yankee starter CC Sabathia. But who would of expected his final action on this day would not only returned the favor, but burst out a resounding and almost fantasy storyline to the already volume of stories that is the “Legend of ‘Los”.

There will be some in the Yankee fan-dom that will say Pena just “ bent into a few bad pitches”, but those same white spheres came from anointed Yankee legendary figures. Pena’s grand slam off Sabathia was the first one ever given up to a left-hander in his long career. Mariano Rivera who might be canonized and made a NYC saint someday was going for save # 604 before Pena deposited the deep shot to Left-Centerfield that sent this stadium into a frenzy akin to Game 162.

Not a single Yankee fan will ever acknowledge this but the insane sound of the ball off Pena’s bat yesterday sent New York Yankee hearts sinking while a whole stadium instantly again fell back in love with him, almost like he never took a 180 day vacation to Chi-town.

After the game Pena “ did his dance” during the Rays 15-minute celebration phase of their 30-minutes and move on “Rays Way” pattern, but something tells me this showcase, this performance that enlightened showed why the Rays Republic has always. Wilder still this was only the 1st act of an 162 act play. I swear it could not have been scripted any better (even by Disney) or played out with any more emotional tugs and pulls during the contest then without warning, Pena simply reached back into all of our hearts and started it beating akin to his own unique rhythm.

It seemed ironic that the same day we hoisted a banner to the rafters showing our pride for 2011 magic, Pena reminded us of what seemed missing last season. Somehow with 2 mighty swings yesterday Pena choreographed the Rays dugout back into his old Salsa groove. From Home Plate to the far reaches of the TBT Deck, on this Opening Day triumphant moment not lost in the excitement was the re-discovery of why we love El Presidente’. May his reign be supreme and his subjects filled with joy. Welcome back ‘Los.

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.

 

While Miami Celebrates, Tampa Bay Sits Wondering

I was visibly upset last night as I watched the Miami Marlins open their new state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium. It seemed like the journey for new baseball digs in our state started between our two respective teams about the same time. Where the Marlins have found favorable loopholes and provisional political help, the Tampa Bay Rays gave into a small local based group that did not have the votes to condemn their project or a Mayor who played the legal card much to the scoffs and chagrin of all involved.

Maybe I am a bit overly jealous that the Miami community and the (then Florida) Marlins found a way to fortify financially and as a unified community and get their alabaster white monument completed and looking simply amazing even before the Rays break ground on their own casa. I truly envy the South Florida community for getting things done, proving that baseball deserves to be in this great state at its highest level, and providing new and innovative fun for their fan base and (hopefully) promote a emphasis of growth for a future Rays home.

Of course my mood is irritated largely by the honest fact I still believe the Tampa Bay Rays could of/should of had their own “christening” in 2012. Over the last 4 seasons the plight of a future Rays home has eroded and been a  huge community sore spot, but that was not always the case.

I remember standing in Centerfield of Progress Energy Field at the end of the Rays 2008 Spring Training home schedule straddling the make-shift proposed batter’s box and imagining Carlos Pena taking a looping swing into an invisible breaking ball that would eventually disappear into afterglow of the distant Pier.

I was excited and glad to be among the crowd when Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg stood at a podium downtown and announced the future home of the Rays would be nestled among the glass masterpieces growing skyward in the St. Petersburg, Florida downtown and would feature a radically designed sail roof designs and the emphasis for a vibrant and renewed nightlife in this sleepy hamlet.

This was about the same time the South Florida region began their own journey towards building a new fish tank for the Marlins with emmenities and features unheard of in a baseball stadium.

I was extremely envious last night as the television crews spoke of the special touches in and around the new Miami digs. The Bobblehead Museum idea was so awesome it still makes me chuckle. The fish tank behind Home Plate where people sitting in those expensive seats can thrust their camera phones or Canon lenses up close to the tropical fish and snap off a photo through the glass getting a special “up-close and personal photo op with their favorite Marlin as he strides towards the batter’s box.

Dang you POWW for your “David versus Goliath” moment making Sternberg cave and pull the entire downtown stadium and Tropicana Field redevelopment project off the table, sail and all to be stuffed into some darkened Trop. cubbyhole possibly forever. I was a part of the “Let’s Build the Ballpark” movement that never could get firm traction to move the POWW machine into a deep pothole. Even today we are as close to a new stadium now as we were in 2008, and that is totally disheartening. If the stadium proposal had even gotten to a city-wide vote…well you know which lever I would have pulled.

It especially bothers me that the Marlins will have a chance to host an future All-Star Game now while the Rays know in their present home, the event will never materialize. The only joy I had last night was knowing the rest of the Nation did not have a chance to laugh and put down this state while watching that fluorescent circus act the Marlins are calling a Home Run Celebration nestled above Centerfield.

I am tired of the Rays current “wait and see” attitude. After seeing “what could have been”, it is time to thump out “what could be” and get at least a iota of forward motion towards Tampa Bay having their own National moment at their own new pristine baseball palace. Unfortunately I think when the ball stopped rolling in 2008, the Rays lost all momentum and motion towards finding a solution. The stadium presently is like a sailboat with no wind, destined to sit idle until the seaward winds kick up.

I got to see Marlins Park under construction in 2011 when I was in the area transporting cars for Google.  Boggles the mind this stadium is completed and the Tampa Bay facility is not even on the proverbial drawing board. I sit here watching the roof peeled back like a sardine can with a glimpse of the moon looking in and throughly wishing it was nestled along the waterfront of St. Petersburg.

I am not totally cruel tonight. I do applaud the Marlins and their ownership for building a facility that makes so many of the grand baseball stadiums built over the last 15 years tremble with the interesting technology innovations and fan-based treats nestled beneath the stadium’s glistening white retractable roof. I know there were hard decisions, rough moments surrounding the planning, building and primping of this space, but all has turned out simply magnificent. The Miami region radiated a glow into downtown sky accented by the open roof and the light flowing out into the warm Florida air.

Meanwhile in downtown St. Petersburg a tract of land once deemed the future home of the Rays stadium sits darkened and decaying. The Rays stadium movement seems stalled in the sugar sands of the local political arena, washing away any realization or hope of a new Rays stadium within the next 5-7 years….if ever. But tonight another region, who started their own quest for a new stadium gets to drink in the National praise and good tidings. If the presentation of the new Miami facility doesn’t stir the Rays punchbowl enough to get some Rays stadium momentum stirring, maybe nothing will.

My Mega Million Dreams and Rays Aspirations

It has been an odd kind of day today. As I was sitting in the grandstands of McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida today awaiting the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates taking the field I began thinking a whole heck of a lot about the possibilities, great changes and even a few rearrangements I could do if those lucky number somehow popped into my mind before 11 pm EST. They really got the name of the Lotto drawing right because Mega Millions is just what it is all about tonight.

I have been all up in my head today thinking of ways to spend, circulate and even give back or pay forward with an award of close to $ 640 million dollars. To put it into prospective, if I win this kind of payout, I could almost singlehandedly have enough greenbacks to be the second part of a stadium deal for the Rays. Sure a new stadium would probably cost close to $1 billion with a hotel and Convention Center included in the complex, but I had 640 million reasons to sit on the warm sunny beach today and day-dream.

Sure I might have the money to then make a few demands, like the stadium will be on the Pinellas side of the region, but would any bank or contractor take me serious even if Rays owner Stuart Sternberg gave a “thumbs up” to a proposed stadium? Of course that is the great thing about daydreaming, even if it doesn’t materialize, you do not hurt anyone, cause economical chaos or potentially have death threats posted to your Twitter page. But if I could secure that amount, or even 50% of it, I would try to take a meeting with the Rays.

But that is only one angle of the proposed futuristic dream-scape that is invading my mind right now if I got the right combination. Still with over $1.5 billion dollars supposedly already taken in by Lotto retailers from sea-to-shining-sea, I have to be realistic and venture I might have to share it or split it more than 2-ways. So the reality is on the horizon I might not have $ 640 million reasons, but hey let’s just say I had $100 million reasons for argument’s sake.

If that was the situation, I would definitely get in good with my old Rays Season Ticket Rep Craig Champagne ( love that name) and purchase 5 seats for the entire season ($16,098.00 a seat ) in the Rays Avantair Home Plate Club. I would then get to the Trop. early enough to walk between Gate 1 and 4 and at each gate location select or hopefully find a father and son or couple who are at the stadium for the first time.

Playing the “perfect host” card, I would ask them if they were “willing” to give up their tickets for a pair in my section, but will not advise them in advance it is all-you-can-eat and a great view. If they do not accept, I will keep trying to find a suitor on either side of me for the game that night/day. I would take the tickets they exchanged and walk over to the ticket line and just hand them to a father and son or couple standing in line for tickets asking nothing in return but that they get some extra fun and excitement from their visit with the saved money.

But my great times would not end there. I would wait until one of those entertaining Park and Recreation Days also known as day time “getaway express” contests and surprise one group for each P&R Day during the season and treat them to free Rays gear, lunch and a future special surprise of 2 outfield game tickets for each kid in the group to a future Rays game during the weekend (maybe a concert night or Sunday).

Maybe this seems a bit over done and a tad too giving to some, but this team has done so much for me on so many other levels, giving back like this would just seem fair. But my paying it forward gesture would not stop there. I would get the membership of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” together once a year for a no holds bar throw-down possibly during a Boston or Yankee away series complete with food, beverages and possibly see if the Rays want to do something in unison with this event. I would purchase 10 VIP Event packages to each Rays/Hess Express Concert Series and award five of them to people who write an essay why they should be picked as a special VIP guest and meet the artist before the show. The last 5 VIP badges would be given out anonymously through the Rays staffers to fans who deserve a treat like this, or just show such commitment to the “Rays Way” it would seem criminal for them to miss out on such a fantastic prize.

Then of course during the season I might “ show up” at a seating section during the season with Rays fitted caps, possibly an ice cream or cotton candy guy in tow and give away a few boards or satchels of goodies to the fans. But even during all of this, I want nothing in return. No press, no First Pitch, no scoreboard or Jumbotron acknowledgment, just hope to be a card-carrying member of the Rays Republic from Day one giving back for 15 years of fantastic baseball and memories.

Gosh it is great to think like this, propose such great activities and rewards to people who visit the Trop. even if it would eventually end when the money dries up and only dust settles again in my wallet. So I rushed down to my neighborhood Sweetbay who are corporate partners with the Rays and plucked down $50 for tickets that could fulfill the dreams and aspirations of such a $640 windfall.

But much to my chagrin, Florida is not one of the state participating in the Mega Millions sweepstakes. That even with 1 in 176 million odds to win I can not get a single chance, a single iota of the proposed riches because my state in to part of the Mega Million empire. I am taken aback that a state that thrusts it’s Lotto and Powerball drawing to the forefront is missing from the National obsession tonight, but I know that maybe it is a good thing.

Money changes people, even with the most honest of intentions, futuristic charitable dreams and aspirations, sometimes they disappear when the numbers click and a huge check is thrust into your hands. But tonight someone outside the state of Florida will have a chance at that dream, that life-changing moment we all wish would pluck itself into our arms at least once. So instead I bought $20 of Powerball tickets. Hey that jackpot is $60 million. Not the huge windfall of the Mega, but could still bring about every aspiration and idea I have listed above……It’s now 10:55 pm, Wish me luck!

Three Outfielders to Fight for Undetermined MLB Stint

How do you think Tampa Bay Rays outfielders Brandon Guyer, Jesus Feliciano and Jeff Salazar are feeling right now. Each will get a shot at proving themselves over the next couple of days for a solo spot on the Rays roster to open the season, but it will come with an unspecified expiration date.

That is what really stinks about this last chance competition, the winner gets a one-in-a-lifetime chance to possibly see a banner unfolded and take part in the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, possibly get a few well-earned starts in either left or right field, then poof! This segment of the dream will dissolve.

Each of them has to know while sweating and going through these last bushel of games their shot at immortality, their chance to put their own stamp on baseball hinges on the shoulder and wrist of one of their current Spring teammates. If you are one of the three do you wish a speedy recovery? Or do you want rehab assignments, preparation, a chance to gain a foothold in the door and keep it from totally closing even after Sam Fuld or B J Upton are deemed fit and ready to roll.

Makes that concept of winning as a team seem more meaningful right now. No matter how superb or brilliant Guyer, Feliciano or Salazar play in the next week, two are Spring camp invitees ( Salazar, Feliciano ), while one has been a part of the Rays magic last season ( Guyer ). Each have made impression both positive this Spring, along with a few they hope the Rays forget about totally.

But in the end only one will stand on the Tropicana Field First Base line hearing their name echo over the public address system, permanently etching their name in the annuals of baseball. I truly do not have a clear-cut favorite out of the three, each has shown they have the skills, abilities and work ethic to be on this level, but two will only garner silver and bronze. Who among the three will put bat on ball, provide gasping moments in the field, push the other two towards the brink of elimination by speeding by their peers with resounding grace and dignity.

It is times like this I wish the MLB roster would expand to 30 players so players like these three can get a chance at not only the lifestyle they eagerly want, but get the time, instruction and preparation that could make them household names some day, possibly be the first phone call if anyone goes down, or someone is needed to energize or bring another focal point to this team.

Guyer has the added bonus of having a minor league option, so he could be “the one” and also be able to board the famed “Durham pipeline” and come back multiple times during the season. Salazar and Feliciano would have to pass waivers, the possibly accept a tour at Triple-A for an additional chance at redemption, or promotion back up to “the Show”. Each has a clear and open path towards standing on that foul line on Opening Day, now who wants it bad enough and is willing to prove it. Game on fellas, game on!

Upton Needs to “Get Back on the Horse” Soon


I am beginning to worry a bit about Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton. Not because he is missing vital Spring time in the field, but because sometimes letting a fear fester can be his own worst enemy. The reasoning for this worry stems from a recent collision between Upton and Rays LF Desmond Jennings that left both with soreness, stiffness and bouts of pain.

The worst injury unfortunately is the one we can not see with our eyes, or predict with any clarity. The mind is notorious for making the imagery of the event and the aftermath blur and sometimes amplify to the point where the athlete doesn’t venture into that same situation again with abandon, but with caution and fear for a return engagement with the grass and a visit from the Rays training staff.

This is the fear I have right now that Upton’s confidence is damaged. Not beyond repair, but he needs to get into game action soon, face the demon of another “dying quail between himself and the Rays infield, or a long drive high in the gap that he can run under, or take command of with confidence. Right now Upton could have the same hesitation that an NFL receiver feels initially after a jarring hit over the middle, or when he is somersaulting through the air after being up-ended.

Hearing footsteps, taking an extra degree of caution while running towards a ball can be detrimental to the style and devil-may-care attitude Upton has shown as he has risen up the ranks to become a top-tier defensive outfielder. Taking a second off his response time, a hesitation in his start towards a ball in flight or fearing another collision with a teammate could derail all the good deeds he has done in the Rays outfield since 2007.

The cure for this illness is simple. Upton needs to get back onto the field as soon as possible, have a high fly ball hit into the gap or in front of him and he needs to make the play like he did 1,000’s of times before his recent collision. The problem is right now, he is not on the field. Taking that first step onto the field during a contest is the first vital step in his recovery.

Sure some will say he needs to heal his physical wounds before he can stave off his mental issues, but that is malarkey. Getting back on his proverbial horse, seeing the ball again as just a white sphere and not something that almost took his livelihood away is paramount. Miscalculations happen every day in sports either by players in the field or on the mound, and they bounce back with better clarity and understanding of what to do “next time” a similar situation rears its ugly head.

A good word of advice is possibly Upton becoming more vocal, being the QB in the outfield and calling off infielders or his corner outfielders when he feels he has a legitimate shot at a ball. I still remember seeing a collision between Jose Cruz Jr and Damon Rolls in shallow Right field near the foul line in 2004 that shook both players to their internal cores. Both players ended up battling their own separate demons after that event, but both also tried to get back on the field ASAP to start the mental healing process.

For many MLB seasons Upton has thrown his body around the turf in the Trop. or on the road without a care or worry or fear of mortal consequences. It is a unteachable quality to give 110% on a play most would deem a loss even before an attempt, then gripping the ball in the glove and hearing the cheers all around you. Upton needs to get back on the field and make such a play and return to that cocky level of play that endears him to us.

Banging into walls, diving face-first with his glove and arm extended is part of the work that Upton has signed up for as a MLB outfielder, and he is very good at it. But right now with him on the sidelines, letting his mind play the event over and over again, it is a dangerous time for Upton.

The sooner Upton can again take stride towards the field, take total command again of his position and hope for a redemption screaming line drive hit either to his left or right. Until that moment, Upton will rethink the event in his head, replaying it, trying to dissect it like a Science experiment instead of accepting it is part of the game. Mental toughness is as important to his game persona as his sweet swing. Letting him simmer in the dugout possibly doing a replay over and over in his mind is not good for him or the team.

I have a gut feeling the first fly ball into the gaps or in front of Upton is key to his return to the field. No matter if it is BP or game time, that first blast towards him will cause a reaction, my guess it will trigger the old “Upton” to get on his high horse and pull that stray ball into his glove like he has 1,000’s of times before. But he must first step on the field for the real on-the-job healing to begin.

 

 

Luke Scott-Motivational Rays Republic Speaker


I truly have to say it, I like the brash style displayed recently by new Tampa Bay Rays Designated Hitter Luke Scott. Some will say his recent Red Sox quotes went beyond the usual brash and pointed commentary that any usual Major League Baseball player will mutter. But didn’t he say bluntly state what most of us in the Rays Republic have come to know as fact from 1998 until 2008. Red Sox Nation arrogance ran rampant within the confines of Tropicana Field before the Rays squashed the red beating hearts in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Before that moment, we were never considered the “team to beat” by Red Sox Nation. In that one moment, the momentum of confidence and commitment seemed to shift suddenly towards the Rays side of the rivalry fulcrum.

And whereabouts in Scott’s banter and rant did anything untrue rear its ugly head. Sure his voracious comments were a bit pointed, but competition and confidence breeds that sort of ramblings. And Scott has witnessed more than a few seasons of playing in the highly charged emotions that come with playing in the  AL East. I truly think Scott said what has been sequestered deep inside most of the Rays Republic’s guts for so long, and got the attention of everyone in baseball, not just the vocal and vindictive Red Sox Nation Army So now at least one Rays player’s true feelings are open for all to see, wonder who else in the Rays Clubhouse has these same volatile emotions churning in their gut.

I would be the last person you would ever consider “timid”, but the reality was I did take more than I gave from the Boston faithful in our earlier seasons. I  can attest to letting more than a few raspy Red Sox comments bounce off of me because we had not “walked that walk yet” aka the playoffs. Back then I know I gave an extra ounce of respect to the Red Sox Nation’s fans that came into Tropicana Field basically because we (the Rays) had not ventured into that sacred October dance. Now that scenario is null and void.

Of course the first factoid out of any self-respecting Red Sox fan would be they have more titles, even a World Series title while the Rays missed their chance in 2008. True, but  the Rays also do not have over 100 seasons of baseball to thrust our chests out about, and over the course of the last 4 MLB seasons the Rays have definitely put together more post seasons and more wins in the regular season. Think about that one for a long moment Bean town fans.

Now I am not proclaiming we are the ” team to beat”, I am announcing it. To get to the playoffs from now on, you have to win in Tropicana Field. You will have to post a winning slant in the seasonal series and either put your foot on our necks or pay the consequences.  Gone are the days of the timid and inexperienced Rays. 2012 will bring a more seasoned Rays crew that are eager and anxious to send more than a few more corks skyward towards the Trop’s Teflon roof. This is no longer your older brother’s Rays team, there is a new motivational sheriff in town and his name is Scott….Luke Scott.

No longer can Tropicana Field be considered, “Fenway South” where Red Sox unis and caps outnumbered the home folks. The Rays trademark cowbells now drown out overblown and arrogant “Let’s Go Red Sox” chants along with countless Boston baseball biblical facts which now fall upon deaf Rays Republic ears. The revolution has ended, and we are the home team now….and forever. Now, the Rays Republic has grown a pair, and can stand toe-to-toe with facts, figures and banners to prove we have arrived, and take our share of future titles and playoffs spots.

Sure Scott has a lingering history of being a bit abrasive, a bit of a vocal bully as it were, but maybe that is what this Rays teams needs. Maybe it is time for this team to transform into a squad that takes the mantra “No more Mr Nice guy” and begins to turn it up a notch, go for that ceremonial jugular and feast upon the weak and wicked. Maybe it is time for this Rays squad to become more evil, mean and nasty both on and off the field like their fellow Nor’eastern brethren.

Maybe here in our 15th Rays season it is time for the Rays Republic to remind themselves the Trop is our home turf and we should defend it’s honor.  Maybe it took someone like Scott to bellow to the heavens and remind us we do not play in “Fenway South”. That St. Petersburg, Florida is a  great travel destination where “opposing team’s winning chances go to die”. Maybe it is finally time for us to take our Southern hospitality and charm and stow it away for not only our Boston brethren who used to berate and basically us weak and worthless to eat those words as they sulk out of the Trop after another Boston loss.

Maybe Scott was the one Rays player’s voice needed to put that pronounced exclamation point back into our destiny of reclaiming our insurgence back into the spotlight in the AL East. So what if the MLB instituted a possible additional post season slot, the Rays are playing for the gold, not the bronze. 

Maybe Scott reminded us that the AL East competition starts now, in the Spring Training where the entire division rests on the west coast of Florida. Maybe his small seed of assertiveness will spawn and escalate throughout the next few months, finally maturing and vested come October. I am beginning to like Scott more than you can imagine, but then again, I am a Renegade.

Rays Fan Fest 2012 was a Walk-Off Grand Slam

Pulling off an event the size of Rays Fan Fest must keep some within the confines of the Tampa Bay Rays 4th floor sleepless, anxious and maybe a bit stir-crazy at times. Hundreds of emails, untold hours of planning, confirmations and re-confirmation must make it a logistical nightmare that rivals a major NCAA bowl game. All this energy, physical exertion and mental numbness accumulating with a huge bang over a 7 hour period.

If the crowd was any indication, then this year’s Fan Fest might be a precursor to another extraordinary Rays MLB run to who knows what new plateau. The building felt different when I entered on Saturday. Maybe it was the simple fact I was not in the first wave of fans for a change, or maybe it is the electricity and anticipation that was heavy in the air as I strutted into the tilted roof home of the Rays. Everything seemed bolder, more vibrant, more animated this year.

From the MLB Alumni wiffle ball contest that featured a Grand Salami by the Big O, former Marlin Orestes Destrade or the presence of former HR slugger Roger Maris’s son and grandson, the Trop just seemed more colorful and ready for exploration. With the added Internet celebrity factor and exclamation point in the wiffle ball contest of Sean Steffy (@Wiffleball28) who is better known as the world’s greatest wiffle ball pitcher. I was transfixed on the game even as Travis Phelps had an HR dashed by the big hands of Eric Knott. It was great to see kids running the bases, all smiling, giggling and giving up high-fives to the former MLB players.

As some people mumbled and grumbled about the $50 autograph wristband, it was not lost to me that the event helped build a nest egg of over $100,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Association Florida Chapter. From Rays skipper Joe Maddon and his new dark brown locks to even hearing Kyle Farnsworth reading to children without any intimidation, the event truly was one for the record books. And the crowd expanded to bulging capacity more than once as travel around the Trop during this Fan Fest was very packed in, but respectful.

The event even had more than a hint of animal presence as the Rays new mascot DJ Kitty got his first moment on the AstroTurf, and Rays SP David Price brought his canine wing-man Astro to the event, which sparked photos, conversations and general smiles from people of all ages. DJ Kitty sporting his trademark huge Rays 2008 AL Championship ring has evolved a lot since his first appearance on the Rays Jumbotron. Now he will be another added fan experience at Rays game along with Raymond.

The kid’s Interactive zone was packed with excited kids, parents and Rays staff member as pint-sized future Rays dashed through obstacle courses, threw pitches or try to hit one into the LF seats in the wiffle ball field. During all of this Rays players made spot appearances at the basketball game, the High-Five Station at the end of the Run the Bases event, plus talked to friends, family or just anyone you chose at the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend table.

I still marvel at how much the Pepsi displayed have also become a spectacle ever since I erected the first one back in 2004 on the field. It has become a feature backdrop not only for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame inductions, but for panel discussions and fan interaction with Rays players and personnel. From my first mild-mannered 1,000 case display to the present monstrosity on caffeine, it was again a constant background for photos and memorable pictures with kids and fans. Everywhere you looked on this day you saw smiles, people exchanging greetings and awaiting the new 2012 season with enthusiasm and glee.

This event for so many signals the end of Winter and the insurgence of not only Spring, but the renewal of our favorite game. Fan Fest means so many things to so many. Some came for the great deals on collectibles and autographed items in the two selected areas of sales merchandise. From team authenticated items near the old stick ball court beyond the left field seats to the huge outlying of items in the usual Corona Beach section, there was something for every Rays fan, even an old cap commemorating the Rays 2004 trip to the Far East (I bought one).

I secluded myself in my usual post 1 pm section near the entrance point for the Rays players in Section 134 not only to say hello and greet some of the Rays long and new faithful back to the Trop, but to also see their faces as they came up the tunnel and saw that huge amassed crowd. To a t, the players all seemed to take an extra second at the top of the stairs to take in the whole spectacle and immerse themselves in this great Rays Fan Fest vibe.

I even got a chance to see the first meeting of Rays new DH Luke Scott and owner Stuart Sternberg just beyond the Rays autograph area. Sternberg who few down from New York especially for the event must have a sore face today from all of the smiling and love shown by the fans at this year’s event. Some say this season is critical to the Rays future success in the region, and if the crowd is any indication, baseball is alive and well in Tampa Bay.

I could also see from my vantage point the smiles on Rays staffers from Fan Hosts to the Rays Promotions Department as the hum of voices and energy in the Trop inhaled and exhaled throughout the day. I gazed down the Rays promotional schedule and saw more than a few “must-have” items that not only peaked my interest, but had some sentimental appeal. Who would not want a Evan Longoria mini drum set, or hold onto a Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore or DJ Kitty figurine. From the Rays Opening Day schedule magnet to their last promotion of the season, the Rays fan favorite bobblehead, this is definite another Walk-off win ( do not forget the Longo Walk-off figurine on 4/21) for this Rays Department.

This season’s Fan Fest was a monster. Both in attendance, the level of excitement and even the plucking of Rays host Rusty Kath with a wiffle ball that is sure to be a Youtube sensation (currently only 74 views, but climbing). From Sternberg down to the Rays interns, there has to be an added level of excitement and confidence heading into Tuesday’s report date for Pitchers and Catchers in Port Charlotte, Florida. If this Fan Fest is any indication, it could be a great season both on and off the field for the Rays organization. And it all started with this annual rite of Spring by the Rays. I am giddy to see what unfolds next.

 

Random Rays Fan Fest photos on my Flickr photostream

Great Scott!

Not sure if I should send an edible fruit bouquet or an animated “thank You” card to Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I know some found the “Ghost Protocol” blog a bit far-fetched or even too realistic, but the pure fact is the Rays were on silent running because they did not want the rest of the AL East to know they finally got the player Friedman has asked about for the past 2 Trade Deadlines.

I honestly think the signing of Luke Scott to a one year deal with a club option for 2013 is a firm step in the positive direction of finding a Designated Hitter that can grow within the Rays fold. Sure Scott might be a bit of a late bloomer, but they said the same thing about Jonny Gomes when he was a DH, and he blossomed quite nicely after leaving for the Reds and eventually being traded to the Nationals.

Considering Scott also has a home in Florida located in De Leon Springs (Volusia county). The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of Scott taking the Rays DH role and pouncing on it is a setback from his July 2011 shoulder (torn right labrum) surgery. But all indications are that his rehab has been productive, and Scott should be ready to go in about 45-50 days at full steam and is currently in the midst of his own intense off-season workout regimen. Scott also could see some time possibly during the Inter-League portion of the 2012 schedule in the outfield if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

He seems to be the offensive weapon the Rays have been seeking for a few seasons, with Friedman always asking the Orioles about his availability come late July, and always finding the prospective package too rich for the Rays blood. But when Scott is healthy, he could be a godsend to a Rays offense that at time rolls into a hitting funk at the wrong moments. Scott has hit 23 or more home each season from 2008-2010 before he was limited to 9 HRs over his 64 games in 2011. In his best showing for the birds, Scott hit for a .284 average with 27 HR, 72 RBI and a .368 on-base percentage back in 2010.

Still, it was great the Rays could finally get Scott without having to send prospects or even MLB ready players to their divisional foes the Orioles thanks in part to them non-tendering Scott earlier in the off-season. The terms of Scott’s 2012 Rays contract are still being ironed out, but you can bet there will be plenty of room for incentives if Scott can knock the cover off the ball or deposit some nice white souvenirs into the Trop’s stands. Scott does come to the Rays with the accolades of being a top-tier offensive weapon having been selected as the Oriole’s 2010 MVO (Most Valuable Oriole). And the cherry on top of it all..He is also an avid First Baseman.

If Scott can hit anywhere close to his .500 Slugging Percentage that he has displayed in the past, he could be a nice addition and a good bit of protection for Evan Longoria. It has been a few years since Longo has had a hitter behind him who can command a pitching staff to pitch to him in fear of giving the next guy an ample chance for a run-producing at bat. Scott could be a great equalizer, especially if he gets ahead in the count and makes his rival possibly groove one in on him.

That is where Scott reminds me so much of Gomes. He has that type of power to get the bulk of the bat on the ball late and drive it towards First Avenue South with a simple twist of the wrists. That kind of consistent power display and ability has been missing with the Rays for some time. Plus with a one years deal and a 2013 club option, if the Rays and Scott do not fit together right, Scott could again be a free agent in the off-season of 2012.

Scott has a pure passion for guns and hunting, which might make him an instant friend of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but he is also someone who has his opinions and is not afraid to voice it loud and proud no matter if you in his corner or not. Mark Reynolds, an old Baltimore teammate of Scott possibly has the best explanation of “Scott being Scott” :

He doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t talk behind people’s backs about anything. A lot of people have those opinions and don’t say anything. Did I think he needed to go to the Winter Meetings and say all those things” Probably not. But he’ll give you his opinion.”

So as you can see from Reynold’s comments, Scott comes with some concerns, but has generally been a positive force in the clubhouse. It is away from the playing field and his teammates that Scott has made a few less than adamant “followers”. He was a Baltimore fan favorite, being accessible and gracious to the fan base, but he did have a tendency to rub some the wrong way with his devote religious beliefs and political opinions. I think if the Rays did win the World Series in 2012, Scott might not have an instant invite to the White House.

But he has also been known to have a razor-sharp wit sometimes going above and beyond the usual lines like throwing plantain chips at a player to keep him in line. But that is another quality that is very similar to Gomes in that Scott is almost like an larger-than-life animated cartoon character in the clubhouse and vocally.

Heck, some might remember Scott ruffled a few Rays feathers in the past spouting off about former Rays hurler Matt Garza and making sure his Home Run celebrations against the Rays had a bit of an extra kick to them. So Scott might be one of those “tough love” guys, one of the people who will tell it like it is, and make you sorry you asked the question for the abrupt response to your query.

But Scott should love this region. Did you know Scott is fluent in Spanish and loves the Latin culture. That should go great with a team with plenty of Latin flair, plus a community that boasts the second largest Hispanic population in the state. In the end, the Rays got the guy they have been peering at from afar for several seasons. Scott is also a great contributor to local clinics, special events and charity events. He has the personality that can be a crowd pleaser and a seat filler not matter the event or the reason for the assembly. 

The echo of his bat meeting the ball in the trop should sound like thunder, and hopefully he will rain down a few HR showers over the course of a season. His love for all things Latin, including the language will make him likeable, respected and a quick fan favorite. I can hear the Raysvision clip now as Scott rounds the bases after hitting one into the seats. On the scene is Doctor Emmitt Brown in a clip from “Back to the Future”, and you know the line……”Great Scott!

Who knows, maybe they will use this clip……

A “Must Do” Event to Circle on Your 2012 Spring Training “To Do” List

This Spring event always seemed to have that musty and stuff feel about it, a wedge of a baseball nobility or royal twist to it in the past. One of those pristine and ceremonial Spring events that precedes the influx of moving vans, travel trailers and those baseball fans needing a Spring subtle kiss from the Baseball Gods. In the past it’s air of an ancient closed door society vibe kept me away even with yearly invites. But time has a way of trimming off the excess and finally bringing about a redefined and refined way to celebrate the Spring return of baseball, with a distinctive Tampa Bay twist.

I am more excited about the events transformed name,  Dinner with David & Friends  which will be a great new Spring event co-sponsored by the Rays southpaw David Price and his One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame which is located  on Centerfield Street inside Tropicana Field. The event will be held on Friday February 3, 2012 from 6:30 pm to ??? It is an early chance for the baseball community both within and outside the Tampa Bay region to help the children’s charities around Tampa Bay on the same night the Hitters Hall of Fame will induct their 16th class of splendid hitters (and a few crafty pitchers). All for the donation of $99 which will include more than just a meal on the AstroTurf of Tropicana Field.

Included with your donation is the chance to meet and talk with current and past baseball legends, the incoming class of 2012 Hitters Hall of Fame inductees like the Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson, former Rays Tino Martinez, Cecil Fielder, the late Mike Flanagan and the Rays Skipper, Joe Maddon and possibly a few special celebrity guests invited to the event. Every diner will also receive a commemorative autographed ticket signed by Price (worth the donation price by itself).

Also on the event agenda is a special autograph signing by present and past MLB stars, a silent auction and a dinner that will conclude with a special message from Price as we begin to embark on the MLB experience for the Spring of 2012.

Maybe it is the new title that embraces and beckons the average baseball fan like myself back into its ceremonial post-Winter arms. I feel more of a Spring warming effect and embrace from this yearly event now that has been vacant for so long. That finally the upper crust of the baseball community have extended a hand to us possibly bringing the event out of the darkness and hopefully can become a “must attend” seasonal event for everyone from the top tier players, movers and shakers plus an average fan like myself can daydream and visualize the upcoming season while sitting at a table remembering the past, present and future of baseball as we gaze upwards at the Trop’s Teflon roof.

I can easily see this event becoming a important piece of any true baseball fan’s annual “To Do” list during their seasonal pilgrimage from the North as they head into the region thawing out their baseball heart and reawakening their internal hunger for baseball. If this event is handled right, it could become a pre-Spring celebration party just a week before the first report dates of 2012 Spring camps. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of snow bound and the snow weary fans and disciples of the MLB community could descend upon this sun-kissed state and make this event and it charities a beginning point on their yearly journey as the “Boys of Summer” begin to develop their seasonal swagger.

My personal opinion might be a bit biased since I have always been a fan of Price and have given countless dollars to the Ted Williams Museum’s silent auctions over the years to support their causes. This is a great way to include the two together, spend some time remembering and enjoying the careers and unfolding careers of the inductees while also being in the company of the real baseball nation. The $99 cost is minimal when you consider the memories, photos and autographs obtained while visually being pulled in by the exploits and dramatic events of the inductees will will reach its climax with a oratory by Price. Only thing missing is a photo op with Price’s dog Astro.

For event information click on the Dinner with David & Friends link in the blog post.

Additional links for the Project One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame websites.

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