Results tagged ‘ Vince Namoli ’

Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure

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Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.


In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.

There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?

Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.

Sonnanstine initially got on the Rays radar in another very unusual way. He originally was not a collegiate baseball player on the Rays scouting department’s radar in advance of the team picking him in the 13th Round of the 2004 MLB June Draft.

His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.


Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.

Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.


More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.

We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970’s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.

During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.

Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.

Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.


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The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.


But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.

The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.

Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.

Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.

Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.
 
 

It Doesn’t Feel like 15 Years

 

 
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It is still hard to believe just what has conspired over the last 15 years. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing the Major League Baseball “Acting” Commissioner Bud Selig announce to the Tampa Bay region’s fans that the Major League Baseball owners had rejected the relocation request of the St. Petersburg Baseball Group to move the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. That same news was so heartbreaking to a region that blindly constructed a baseball venue and was relying on a hope that “If you build it, they will come.”
 
 
How many of us remember hearing that same quote being tossed out on our portable FM radio’s by the Q Morning Zoo and DJ Mason Dixon that the building of the Florida Suncoast Dome would show MLB that the Tampa Bay area means business. But we did get a second announcement from Selig not too long after that in the Spring of 1995, and this time, the news would be a bit more enlightening to Tampa Bay’s quest for a Major League level baseball team.
 
 
On March 9,1995 in the Breakers resort situated on the East Coast of Florida, right between most of our lunch time activities at 12:54 pm, Selig emotion-less face was again thrown up on our local television sets with another message to the Tampa Bay area. This time, by a 28-0 vote by the other current Major League owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally we had Major League Baseball coming to the Tampa Bay area past their usual Spring Training dates.
 
 
And a small side note to all of this is that the Breakers is a resort that tends to bring good omens and news to this region of Florida. For in 1991, in this same resort, the Tampa Bay region also was awarded their National League Hockey franchise from this same Conference Room. And so began the franchise that would evolve within those 15 years from the Devil Rays, that were printed on the first T-shirts and Uniforms presented to the media at that announcement, to our present day Rays.
 

And these word spoken by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the Tampa Tribune might sum up the great celebration and also the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998. “It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a general manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”

 
 
What a huge rollercoaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From completely setting up a professional complex in the existing Spring Complex that the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals had used in the past in western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home. And the $ 150 million that Namoli and his group first paid to finally become the first owners of this franchise seems pale now considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement.
 

I still remember both announcements as if it was yesterday and still have that memory of finally hearing we had our dream of a professional baseball team in our sights and had a hard road ahead of us, but one that always has been a pleasure. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of two-time All Star Hank Blalock being signed by the Rays, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
 

And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to again try and remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. And less than 7 years after Crawford first played on the turf of Tropicana Field, we envisioned a rise to Playoff status, and an eventual ride to the World Series.
 

 

And as we near that special moment in time today, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system and also a few University of Florida football players getting ready for Spring drills. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.

 
 
15 years can be a long time. Heck, when I was 10 years old I always dreamed of being 15, which gave you more responsibilities like playing Senior League baseball, or driving the car with your parents with you. But year 15 for the Rays might be a benchmark season. Already there is a air that this season might assemble the best team overall to ever man a Rays jersey. This season the possibilities are there for the Rays to again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. The announcement on March 9,1995 was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team.
 

I think the best way to celebrate this blog today is to remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who at the time of the announcement was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. In that story, his last paragraph was a quote by Namoli on the day’s events. And I can think of no better way to end this blog than remembering those same words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement 15 years ago.
 
“Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.”
 

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson

 

                            

 

The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.

 


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.


 

 

Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.

 

 

Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.

 

 

 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.

 

 

 

In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.

 


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.

 


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.

 

 


In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”

 


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.

 


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.

 

 


Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.

 

 

 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.

 


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.

 

 

MLB Network Shows 2008 World Series Game 2 Classic

 

 


Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched  MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.

 


It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.

 


There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team.  Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.

 

 


The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.

 


Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.

 


Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be  a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run  at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.

 

 


In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night.  I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.

 


It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life.  To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.

 


So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high  sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

 

 


But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game.  Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.

 


The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.

 

 


Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.

 


But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th,  Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.


 

 


But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning,  Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead.  That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.

 


It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1  win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.


 

 


The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.

 

 

Giving Thanks and Enjoying Life

       

         

 

Today is the day that we give thanks to family, friends and the community for the blessing that we have recieved over the year.  Nothing matters today besides the family and the fine food we are about to devour like true carnivores. If it is turkey, brother save me a drumstick, if it is a succulant ham, save me a piece from the end that is overflowing with the juices and the honey glaze.

 

We enjoy everything from the green bean casserole, to the stuffed mushrooms. We wander from the hall table full with appetizers and mouth-watering goodies that will live in our minds for day, years, and maybe a lifetime. We are celebrating the second best day of the year………Thanks giving.

 

As we sit down at the table, it is customary that we all tell what we are thankful for this year. By tradition I am always the last to speak my piece because I am the one in the family who loves to give thanks for everything from TIVO to Amazon.com. As we sit and raise a glass of fine beverage we all acknowledge that the year has been a wild ride and the new one is going to be filled with greater advetures and smooth sailings.

 

                    

 

As the tabel leans in to finally hear my list of wishes, I remind them that this might take a while and ask if anyone needs to get anything from the fridge or the table. I nod to my other half and tell her to begin to cut the 4 pies that she hand baked last night for the guests and proceed to tell you what I am hopeful and thankful for in 2008:

 

                          

 

I am thankful that I have a hometown major league team ( Rays) ,where some cities have minor league or communitie base semi-pro leagues throught out America.

 

I am thankful and blessed to be a member of a great cheering group with the Rays, the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, and be enshrined in my team’s Fan Wall of Fame.

 

I am thankful to the man who finally brought us Tampa Bay Rays baseball after being struck down twice by MLB for purchasing teams, but stood firm and finally got us our team. Vince Namoli does not get the love he should for doing what everyone else could not for Tampa Bay.

 

I am thankful for Stu Sternberg, who bought the club and made good on a promise to make Tampa Bay a winner……….alot sooner than even he thought it would happen.

 

I am blessed and thankful to the entire staff of the Rays for letting me take a Team Photo with them in May, not knowing the significance at the time of what would happen in October.

 

I am thankful to America for staying the home of the brave and the land of the free. While baseball players are sequestered and defiled for wanting to enjoy the simple liberties we take granted daily.

 

 

I am thankful for the sacrifice and the honor bestowed on every man or woman who steps off a transport overseas, that his tour be short and his life be richer for the experience, in a positive way.

 

I am thankful for the men and woman  who daily police the cities and the countryside to keep us safe in our homes.

 

I am thankful for the right to sleep in late, or stay up until sunrise and know that life is only going to get better.

 

I am thankful for the friends and family that I have now and have lost, either by death or by time passing between us.

 

               

 

I am thankful for the travels to other stadiums and cities to enjoy another team’s culture and fandom in their home enviorment, even Boston and Philadelphia.

 

I am thankful I have been at our teams clinching games for a playoff berth, AL division series, and AL pennant wins. The bonus was to attend 4 of the 5  World Series game this year by my team.

 

I am thankful and blessed to be friends with people in baseball, including the Rays, who know my passion and my desire to see baseball and not politics played on the field.

 

I am blessed to finally know what it is like to cheer for a winner. I was a member of an SEC title celebration, but only got to see one side of the joy and excitement from the field, and never before this year got to feel the fans’ side of the joy and energy.

 

But most of all, I am thankful and blessed to have people like you read my rants and raves daily and who comment and live my Rays dream with me. For that I am extremely grateful and give you this promise today. I will read as many of your great articles as time allows me, and comment and show positive vibes where ever possible with MLBlogs.

 

 

So with that, I raise my glass of fine wine and salute you, the readers and writers of MLBlobs, for you are the reason we are, and the reason we write. May your days be bright and memories always as vivid as the day they were made.

 

God Bless and let’s get ready for a rocking Holiday Season and a blast of a New Years for all.

 

 

Cliff Wittig

 Known 364 days a year as Rays Renegade

 

Rays Rumors: Giambi, Dye and Sonnanstine

 

                          

There has been alot of chatter and speculation that the Tampa Bay Rays might be talking to former Yankee Jason Giambi about a possible Designated Hitters’ position with the club.  I have always been a defender and distractor of the “Giambino”  because his past behavior and his hitting prowness .

To say that the Rays would not listen to his agent would be obsurb. We will listen to anyone talk about their client or even tap dance on the top of the dugout, but the price has to be right for the Rays to bite on Giambi. He would have to be willing to give the team a “AL East” discount.

By this I mean he will have to give them a discount to be able to face his former team at least 17 times in 2009 and rub their noses in their refusal to even consider him for the team. He would be an upgrade to the DH position without a doubt, but he will also have to come with the stipulation that fater BP he throws his gloves into his locker and doesn’t look at them again until the next day.

To say he would be a defensive downgrade would be a joke. He has gone from being an ample first baseman, to being a liability with a glove. He no longer has the range or the motion to adequately play the position for an extended time. And considering the Rays have one of the best at the position in house, He will need to stow the gloves after BP.

 

                  

 

For the Rays sake, that might have to be written into the contract. For intimidation factor, Giambi gets a “10”. I always say when I see him on the big screen that he has serial killer eyes. Those baby blues seem to stare right through you even from 50 yeards away. I can only imagine what they look like when he sees a hanging curveball or breaking pitch and is about to thrust it over the wall in one long swing.

 

                             

 

Jermaine Dye is another guy who has been getting a lot of Rays trade talk in recent weeks. He is a powerful hitter who is also right-handed. that plays right into the Rays plans looking for a above average bat who can also play a great defensive outfield position.

But what might not play into the Chicago White Sox plans is the fact that the team is asking for a proven starter and a fielder player at the triple-A level for Dye. He is still under contract for the 2009 season, and will certainly be considered a prime free agent next season.

He has been pretty injury free and has taken his batting game up a notch the last 2 seasons. In the recent American League Divisional Series, the Rays got a lot of first hand looks at Dye as he hit and drove in runs for the White Sox in the series against the Rays.

 

                              

What is also known around baseball is that White Sox GM, Ken Williams wants to lower his payroll a bit before filling his holes on his squad. He will have to start to make deal soon to be able to capitalize on the top tier players before the market goes thin and he will have to trade for his desired postions.

Also of consideration is if the Rays are on the list of 6 potential trade destinations that Dye will veto any trades. The Rays might have been on that list in 2007, but would Dye either void the list or are the Rays a desination that suits Dye………..We shall see in the coming weeks.

 

 

                   

 

The New York Mets have been actively asking and looking for information on the Rays 4 and 5 starters this off-season. Edwin Jackson had early interest from the team, but based on his career numbers and his consistant pitching, they have moved onto inquiring about Andy Sonnanstine.

Sonnanstine has been a fierce competitor for a long time. He was not an orignal target of the Rays in the amatuer draft, but former owner Vince Namoli was interested in Sonnanstine after a win against his alma mater, the Norte Dame Fighting Irish. The Kent State pitcher had always fought the Irish hard and Namoli liked the young pitcher’s style.

So the team drafted him and Sonnanstine displayed this same knack for consistancy all the way through the minor leagues. When he got to the majors, he had already been selected as the Rays “minor League Pitcher of the Year” twice during his tour in the Rays farm system.

 

                    

 

He came to the majors and set a presence of consitant pitching and low run and walks totals, which have kept him into games deep last year and this season for the Rays. He was the first pitcher to hit the 11 win plateau this season, but got mired at that number before finally posting his 12th win. He is one of those inning eater pitchers who can make a staff better by pitching his game and staying on top of the opposition.

I really do not think the Mets have the fair trade prospects in their farm system to make a ideal trade with the Rays. If they were to get Sonnanstine, it would have to be a 3-team deal that would bring in a few pieces that would be heading Tampa Bay’s way.

That is not say that the wheels are not already at work trying to locate pieces that would entice the Rays to give up their young pitcher. The Rays are still under control of Sonnanstine until 2010, when he will be up for his first taste of arbitration.

 

 

 

 

Kevin Costner and the Rays

 

On November 8th, the Tampa Bay  Rays will present the new look of the future to all in attendance in waterfront Straub Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. It has been billed as a event for all ages with special appearances by ex-players Fred McGriff and Mr Hall of Fame, Wade Boggs showing off the new duds.

 This date is only the first of two kick-off dates to showcase the new uni’s and logos. The following day, the crew hits the Tampa downtown Gaslight Park to again display the uniforms and give fans a venue to vent or shout their approval on the choices.

For years, the team has been working behind the scenes to update and translate the new look Rays to the public. They have done a massive retro fitting to the home stadium, the Trop., that has been converted from a average ballpark, to and interactive family friendly park with all the new bells and whistles.

 The next step was the on field look to complete the transition from the Vince Namoli era to the new Stu Sternberg baseball look.

 The uniforms are suppose to convey and old style that will accent the days of uniform lore. Gone will be the green lettering and the blue piping. Gone will be the green modern looking “Rays” logo on the outer gear and home uniforms. Also going the way of the dinosaur, will be the “Tampa Bay” lettering on the away jerseys.

 This is not the last stage of the transformation of the team. The on field product is taking leaps and bounds in confidence and skill. The record does not speak well of the developments, but we did play 17 games against Boston, and 7 against Cleveland this year. This is noted, since they are the two teams via to play the Rockies soon in the World Series.

 Oh, I forgot the main thing about that day.

 Kevin Costner, Mr Crash Davis and Billy Chapel of baseball cinema fame will be on hand to help in the unveiling of this new look. This is a guy who made our AAA franchise a hit with everyone from Cali to Maine. I think he personally made it cool to wear a Durham Bulls hat.

 I still wear mine daily to work.

 Kevin had a special place in my psyche. He has been in 2 of my favorite baseball related films, “Bull Durham“, and “For the Love of the Game.”

 Both are great films with a flair for the cocky and confident nature of the sport. I have the honor to have personal collectibles from both films and they are treasure possessions to me.  I am currently working on getting a “Meet and Greet”  with him for a photo op and a signing of the 1999 Baseball America magazine with him portraying “Bill Chapel” on the cover.

The event will conclude with a waterfront fireworks display, and a few hundreds hats and items throw to the masses.

The next evening, ____Rays players and coaches will be situated all over Tampa Bay to meet and greet fans at the Champs sporting good store locations to help the official public sales of the new look ___Rays merchandise.

I am looking forward to it like a kid at Christmas. I have been a fan even before our first pitch. I was a fan wanting and waiting since the first proposed “buying” of a team back in the days. For those who forgot, before we got our team, we tried to buy the Twins, A’s, Mariners,Giants, and White Sox.  All those efforts went by the wayside by either MLB rulings, or local ownership in the their respective areas finally bellying up to the bar and paying for their teams.

 I am excited to hear Costner’s band , “Modern West”.  If this band had half the talent that he has on the screen, they will rock the bay that night and send everyone home with a memory for the ages…….

 

 

 

D No Longer Stands for DevilRays

I know by now, most of the Tampa bay area has seen the leaked view of the 2008 uniforms for the Devilrays.

For years, the team has been trying to use the term “Devilrays” only in formal setting and in MLB business. For the past few years, the Home jerseys have read “Rays” and showed the slight feel of the franchise in letting the devil flow back into the murky waters off Tampa Bay.

I personally think that the name is not as important to me. But, in reality, I like the phrase “Rays” better than “Devilrays” for the fact of I hate to hear the church loving faction keep harping on that name  for the simple fact of  their personal agendas of political correctness.

That phrase is not evil or demonic. If it was, Vince Namoli would have sold his collective soul for a World Series ring or two.

The new 2008 unveiled design features a longer “barbed” tail on the letter “R” in Rays. and a more pronounced blue hue in the designs. I was seriously hoping that the team would just use the green hued “Rays” that currently adorn the jerseys.

 I am  aware of the teams announced “wants”  of a more traditional colors and look for the uniforms. I loved the idea that the old Road shirts had “Tampa Bay” on them and the Home shirts were simply “Rays.”

 The look of the new “R” seems more futuristic than retro. I really loved the old logo for its lettering and thought they would just dress it up a bit, not put a tail in the “R”.

 People forget that were almost formally bought and moved a few franchises in the past here before getting our team. The Giants, Mariners,Twins, A’s and another Florida expansion team missed our field before getting our  existing team.  I understand the need to appeal to the MLB upper echelon. Remember, they do make the rules.

 I am  wondering if the images were an attempt to sell out the teams coffers with the old style uniforms during the last home stand of the year. They will become instant collector’s items come Thursday morning and you might see a few Sox and Yanks take some home as items for the closet as an investment. I also think that a savvy marketing person can see the dollar signs and the upcoming “Fandemodium” celebration to end with the game worn shirts being given to loyal fans on the field after next Thursday nights game.

 The following two items also make that night a piece of history:

1) It is the end of the 10th Anniversary of our existance,

2) the uniform changes make this the last set of jerseys of this type to be seen on the field, even in Spring Training.

 I have been lucky enough to have received 9 of the jerseys from the “Shirts Off Their Backs” promo event. The event this year will again feature the option of buying scratch off tickets to reveal wining selections for a number of prizes. The jerseys are thought to be a top prize. I personally like the “suite for a night” item.

Last year, I also got 2 nights at the Seminole Hard Rock hotel. I can tell you that those rooms were the cream of the crop. My room had a balcony and a view of the pool area. My girlfriend looked like an angel staring into the December night with the window open and the  rock music blaring from the rooms CD player. Oh, my room key had a custom made CD of music to enjoy after the stay in the hotel.

Talk about a cool night with a hot babe………oops, forgot what I was writing about here.

I have been lucky and blessed to have received the following jerseys on that faithful night/day following the last game:  Jared Sandberg, Damian Rolls, Jorge Sosa, Jesus Colume, BJ Upton, Jose Guillen, Rocco Baldelli, Randy Winn, and last year, Edwin Jackson.

 It is the ultimate fan experience to step out on the field after the game and have a player peel that jersey off his back and give it to you. They have always signed the jersey and taken a photo with me to show the actual presentation of the shirt.

 It is also my last chance to say goodbye and wish a few select players that have befriended me during my time as a Season ticket holder for the team. I look forward to it with a lot of pleasure and hope for the well being of all the players during the off season. The night usually concluded with a group photo that you can always find me in the picture. Every year I do something different to stand out in the pic.  Maybe this year I will wear one of the old black light inspired caps that seemed to even glow in the dark in my closet.

 I guess the best way to sum up this blog is in the hope that with the new Uni’s, they Rays’ now develop and mature that great winning attitude to produce a pennant for the rafters.

Let’s Go Joe………………

 

 

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