Results tagged ‘ Wade Boggs ’

On 12/12/12 Let’s Remember the Only Ray to Wear # 12

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Depending on where you might live on this big blue marble, the number “12” might have a completely different meaning. Most people who take the easy road and say it is a unit of measure, with 12 doughnuts or other items making a dozen. Other would probably be starting to feel the coolness of the approaching holiday season and immediately start humming the “12 Days of Christmas”. In Tampa Bay, if you are a member of the Rays Republic, 12-12-12 can only mean one thing……3 times the Boggs.

018Wade Anthony Boggs is a hometown Tampa Bay product who did his thing in Boston, New York before finally coming home and being a part of the first rendering of the Tampa Bay franchise. Currently over right-center outfield seats on the blue back wall of Tropicana Field sit the number “12” emblazoned on that wall to commemorate the only Rays player ever to see his jersey number retired from the Rays uniform ranks.

One section over and below his enshrined uniform number are the two yellow colored seats in the outfield that also mark the Rays first franchise HR hit by Boggs in the bottom of the 6th inning during the then DevilRays inaugural game on March 31, 1998. A second seat just a few rows up is also where is 3,000th hit, a Home Run landed putting him squarely in the record books at the time as 1 of only 2 MLB player ever to see his 3,000 hit ascend into the crowd for a round-tripper (NYY Derek Jeter did it also for his 3,000th on 6/9/2009).

017Sure Boggs may have only played 2 seasons (1/9th of his career) in the Rays uniform and retired after a knee injury in 1999, before pulling on the Rays uniform one last season as their Hitting Coach. Most would view the Rays deciding to retire his number being based more on his past accolades than his Rays tenure, but here was a guy who played at Tampa Plant HS (1976 grad), and still lives in the Tampa Palms section of Tampa, Florida who gave an early generation of young baseball fans someone to idolize and admire as much for his past as his game preparation.

In the spirit of 12-12-12, maybe I should post 12 interesting facts about Boggs you might not have known:

1) Boggs actually played in the longest game in professional baseball history back with the Red Sox Triple-A squad Pawtucket in 1981 that lasted 33 innings and over 8 hours and 25 minutes. Cal Ripken Jr then a SS for the Rochester Red Wings and another Baseball Hall of Fame member also played in this endurance contest.

2) Boggs ranked 95th in 1999 in The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All Century Team.

3) Did you know Boggs was 121 plate appearances short of the required 502 at bats needed to possibly secure a 1982 American League Batting title during his rookie season ( hit.349). Boggs made sure to secure his first title the following season (1983).

4) Did you know Boggs was a member of the 1986 Red Sox squad that saw their World Series title hopes trickle down towards left field against the New York Mets. Boggs did get redemption in 1996 as a member of the New York Yankees when they hoisted their first World Series title in 18 years.

41KPrMe+XgL__SL500_AA300_5) Everyone remembers Boggs jumping on the back of that NYPD mounted police saddle after Game 6 of that series, and strolling around the Yankee Stadium turf proclaiming who was #1 while on horseback, but did you know Boggs was weary of horses before his famous jaunt.

6) Boggs also had a pretty good knuckleball that he used 15 times (plus 1 fastball) in shutout inning back in a 1997 game against the Anaheim Angels when he wore pinstripes.

7) Boggs was voted the 5th Most Superstitious Athletes by Men’s Fitness magazine.

8) Boggs once owned a fish camp called “Finway” up off 301 South in Hawthorne, Florida

9) Boggs would take the same route into the dugout basically running from Third to Home Plate and the end of every defensive inning. Boggs drew the Hebrew word “Chai” meaning “life” into the batter’s box before each at bat, which was interesting since Boggs was not Jewish.

01610)Every day Boggs took 117 ground balls, took BP at exactly 5:17, and ran pre-game sprints at 7:17. Boggs during his Rays career used to tap his bat head on the shin of his son Brett who was a Rays Bat Boy at the time.

11)Boggs once ventured into the WWF where he did a vignette with WWE icon Mr. Perfect in which Mr. Perfect played baseball. He remained friends with the wrestler and in 2007 Boggs inducted the late Mr. Perfect into the WWE Hall of Fame. Boggs recounted a hunting accident once with Perfect when he carried Boggs after he cut his leg badly on some barbed wire.

02312) Everyone knows Boggs did a guest appearance in the “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers where he was sent by a rival bar as an apology, but the Cheers regulars thought he was a fake Boggs. He also appeared in a 2011 episode of Psych entitled “Dead Man’s Cruveball”.

Wade Boggs might not have amassed a long and storied career as a Ray, but he is still and will always be the only man who will have ever won the team’s # 12 jersey. Bogg’s played for 3 different teams during his 18 season career each time sporting his trademark number. If you put them all together doesn’t it spell out 12-12-12?

Possible Rays Off-the-Turf New Years Resolutions

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man-made New Years resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on a strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.” – G K Chesterton

As we venture towards the approaching cusp of the New Year, I am reminded why teams like the Tampa Bay Rays do not make their New Year’s resolutions known. Maybe it is that realistic fact that the tricky part of it all is sticking to the resolution once the Sun takes it apex on January 1st. Maybe it is hard for some within the franchise to admit that this franchise is another year “older or wiser”,that they are blinded by the shining  clarity that the loftier the resolution, the tougher it is to hang onto as the year unfolds. It takes steely nerves to live by what you divulge and resolve past the first day.

The resolutions I am noting today are just observations, translations or possible seasonal revelations that the Rays organization could encompass in their bag of New Years resolutions. Each of these 3 resolves have a different demographic target that currently lies within the existing Rays Republic community. One resolve would pay a visual homage to our ever-expanding Rays past while another bring into the light a culinary segment that is exploding around Tampa Bay. The third is a possible revisiting of a past “perk” by the Rays Front Office that might seem minimal to some, but has left a small segment of the Rays Republic wondering what their overall value is to this franchise.

Let Them Eat:

The first resolve is for the possibility of the Rays and their concessionary vendor Centerplate  to unify and take a bold step in the concession stand black hole and make one of their Trop locations ( Centerfield Street) become a “pop-up” stand. Using the current fad of “pop-up” restaurants, the Rays and Centerplate could have a different local eating establishment come in and provide a different food concept or gastronomical experience. Think Monstah Lobster during a Red Sox visit. Short-term catering options that could trend with visiting team’s locales or even bring a certain culinary air of the unknown Tampa Bay regional cultural nuances.

I am one of those people who miss the American Sunday Plate concession stand where Chef Enzo and his wife on Rightfield Street. I miss their signature homemade peach/apple cobbler, meatloaf, mac and cheese and that special finger-licking bucket of ribs. Why not see if some of the local Tampa Bay fringe eateries might want to venture into the Trop for a 10-game home stand catering venture with 4 signature dishes, a few sides and possibly even a devilish dessert. Centerplate do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the Everglades BBQ experience in 2011, but maybe I just hunger for more. This franchise has been very upfront in the past promoting their sponsor restaurants with vigor, but has it generated the capital for the sponsor that was envisioned? A short-term “pop-up” even for 10 games could get fans to sample the goods of a local eatery like the Z-Grille, and bring in fans post-game to again dine on those fares featured in the Trop  (Dr. Pepper ribs).

This could open up  a new customer base for these small restaurants, and maybe  the Rays can incorporate another growing food fad into the mix. Maybe an olive branch could be extended to the budding food truck community ( Fire Monkeys)  who are gaining a sizeable foothold in the Tampa Bay region and the food could be another way for the team to get those fringe Rays prospective fans into the stadium and let the way this team plays entice them to come back again and again. To me it sounds like a gastronomical “win-win”, but the potential fo even a slight attendance boost is a tasty side dish for me.

Perks Worth Revisiting:

My second resolve is for the Rays to take a firm stand and combat the mounting Season Ticket Holder apathy aliment that is gaining legs. It was not so long ago this segment of the Rays Republic had some special perks besides their seat discounts and gifts that made it worth the 81-game investment. Now it seem the  trinket cupboard is bare and some long time Rays Republic Season Ticket members have decided to explore game packages and small allotments of tickets as opposed to footing a huge upfront financial investment into the team. The foundation is not crumbling, but it does have a few cracks.

I have heard from some Rays Fan Wall of Fame members who wish for the golden days (pre-Stu) when we got all of the promotional items so we did not have to fight the 5:10 masses to get our Rays trinkets. We even got the under-15 selections which went great for giving gifts to younger friend’s kids, planting a seed to them becoming future Rays fans. I used to get my promotional item when the gates opened, hold onto it and see if a young fan was sitting in my section who did not get an item and I would give it to them knowing I had one coming to me later in the season via the yearly Season Ticket perk. There is still one mid-season event I wish the team would bring back again. I loved the All-Star Celebration parties held on the turf with food, games and the All-Star game telecast on the big screen as we all lounged on the field either on blankets or chairs eating take-out food. bought beverages or provided eats and just having that special Rays All-Star united experience.

It was a great event held before the era of Stu back on July 12,2005 and July 11, 2006. This is one of the yearly Rays events I have missed the most, more for the chance to mingle with Rays fans than for the simple fact of sitting down in Centerfield and looking upwards to the Teflon roof of the Trop. I still have vivid images in my mind of the phrases on those Rays invites stating: “You are our Most Valuable Player” (2005) or “Season Ticket Holders will take over the Trop!” (2006) These events used to make me feel like a small important cog of the Rays machine. Now I feel more like replaceable oil that can be changed at a moment’s notice.

Shining  Examples of the “Rays Way”:

The third resolve could easily be done. It just takes a solid decision and possibly a can of paint and a brave maintenance man. I went to Dallas for the Super Bowl a few years ago and had my breath taken away when I witnessed the Cowboys Ring of Honor in person. Not only does it convey the importance of that player in the team history, but it symbolized a team and fan’s love and ultimate respect for their former heroes and role models from the gridiron. I think the Rays need just that same symbolic example of honoring their past now that we are entering our 15th season.

It could be included on the facade of the 200 or Club Level of seating starting outward on either side of the current Press Box locations. There is more than enough space for future additions as the list grows towards the corners, plus even if the Rays do finally commit to a new home, it can be incorporated into the plans and just be re-instituted in the new venue. Without a shadow of doubt the Rays “Yoda”, Don Zimmer has to be the first name etched in this collection of great Rays. Some might say it should be Wade Boggs or even Fred McGriff who grace the honorary ring first, but to me Zim has all the prototypical Rays qualities you want both from a on-the-field, and in-the-seats standpoint. Top to bottom he is a Tampa Bay resident, a role model and a wealth of baseball stories, knowledge and experience worth of such an honor.

Well, these are my 3 possible 2012 resolves for the Rays as the New Year beams brighter upon the horizon. Some will say I should have addressed the Rays impending on-the-field issues and left these sleeping dogs lie, but I take great pride in my past, present and future dealings with this great franchise and think that sometimes things need to be instituted, re-invented or brought back to life to make being a member of the Rays Republic special again. These 3 resolves can be achieved, they can be enacted and they can be turning point to regaining some of the lost beams of light that have escaped the brilliance of the Rays Republic.

In advance, I wish all my loyal readers and those who stumble upon my writs a grand celebration tonight on this New Year’s Eve. I also wish you safety and the courage of resolve in seeing your own personal resolutions blossom into beautiful bouquet of obtainable goals and life aspirations.

HAPPY NEW YEARS from Rays Renegade

Thank You Just Doesn’t Seem Enough

On the eve of the day all of us collectively gather together and pronounce our blessing and “thanks” for all the bounty and goodness life has exposed to us in our past year. Like so many other families around this Nation and Tampa Bay, my parents kept that honored tradition of everyone gathered at the table giving “thanks” a loud for the blessing and good things that had transpired over those last 365 days.

I loved those moments, but as the Rays begin to venture into their 15th year of baseball in the major leagues, I have some unfinished business. People and events that warrant not only a “ shout out”, but a significant remembrance or high-5 at this time we want to express ourselves. So, hang on, this list might be a long one.

THANK YOU to the relentless men of the original Tampa Bay Baseball group who shed tears, fought away drowsiness and endured their long path until we got our storied franchise.

THANK YOU to the cities of Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco and even the Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota community that were stepping-stones as the eventual Tampa Bay expansion franchise made it path through the MLB minefields. These MLB teams all brought bits and pieces of themselves to the table as the Rays fashioned their early patchwork franchise.

THANK YOU to our first owner Vince Namoli and his crew who fought the tides and battles early on in this franchise, and still do. Our Captain at the helm since 2007, Stuart Sternberg who has secured a new path, a new identity and a new reason to rejoice being a member of the Rays Republic crew.

THANK YOU to Wilson Alvarez for that first delivery to the plate on March 31, 1998. It completed the completed the mission and set into motion that events that are still unfolding, and will for a long, long time.

THANK YOU to players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and St. Pete natives Casey Kotchman and Doug Waechter who came “home” to play in the Rays colors for Tampa Bay. Each of you have left footprints in the Rays historical sands that will stand the tests of time, and always be some of our fondest memories

THANK YOU to my friends within the Rays 4th Floor from BK to DJ Kitty’s master. Each of your actions have brought together different scenarios and changes to the Rays experience from the concerts, promotional goodies to the foundations of fan-based gatherings like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”.

THANK YOU to the men who have assembled in the Rays Bullpen over the past 14 seasons who have sat, spat and even chattered with me on their journey’s to and from the Rays “second Clubhouse” under the Rays Rightfield stands. From the gum-tossing and comedic activities of Andy Sonnanstine, to the Elvis-inspired guitar styling of Rusty Meacham, I am thankful for those moments.

THANK YOU to guys like Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland and his crew who let me see things behind-the scenes as their Pepsi vendor for years. Getting to see the Rays Clubhouse as it transformed, and even letting me take a piece of it home forever.

THANK YOU to the assembled hundreds who have graced the Rays roster sporting numbers from 1 (Joey Gathright, Akinori Iwamura, Miguel Cairo, Rey Sanchez, Antonio Perez, Sean Rodriguez) to 98 (Jae Seo) for your spent energies, blood and even heartaches as this franchise went through their growing pains and ultimate defeats and celebrations. I consider you all friends for life.

THANK YOU to the fans I have met, entertained and even fought verbally with our these years. Your opinions, insights and even diverse comments have molded these posts and even gave me more than a dozen reasons to question my own logic. From Jeff McKinney, Pat and Christine Manfredo to George, Charlie and the crew up in the 300’s, if we could bottle your optimism and energy for this team, we could light up the Tampa Bay region indefinitely.

THANK YOU to the 2008 Rays team who let me grace a moment within a team photo etching myself permanently into the fabric of the greatest Rays team to date. Still hard to imagine that the Rays, in their rookie attempt in the post season fought so hard and valiantly had an element like rain play such a critical role in their first World Series.

THANK YOU to the Rays scout and player development people like Mitch Lukevics, RJ Harrison who have been linchpin in the development of so many of the Rays past, present and future stars. Their devotion and work ethic knows no bounds, and their tireless emphasis on quality has made the Rays farm system a model of player development efficiency.

HANK YOU to the people of Tampa Bay no matter if you are a long-time Season Ticket holder or someone who graces the stands only a handful of games a season. Your support is needed and appreciated from those among you in the stands, on the field and assisting you with your baseball experience. The lifeblood of this team is the interaction and reaction of the community, and our return to future games.

Giving “thanks” at this time of the year for things outside of Tropicana Field are also very important. So my last THANK YOU has to go out to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his cooking crew of Rays Coaches, Rays staff and employees who have yearly venture out into the Tampa Bay region for Maddon’s annual “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

But I would be remiss if I did not make one more “THANK YOU”. I have to also make a huge and humble shout out to you, the readers of this blog. Since our change over in May 2011, so many of you have stayed the course and returned while others have gone away or have not returned. I “THANK” each and every one of you reading this right now for your support, your time and your comments that have made my writing better since 2007.

But then again, you can never hear the words “Thank You” enough these days.

Dynamic Duo Make Their Rays Debut

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RaysRenegade

Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.

After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.

I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.

Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.

Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.

Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.

Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.

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 The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way. 

I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.

I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.

2,000 Rays Memories in a Flash of Light

 


 
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Has it really been 2,000 Tampa Bay Rays game? Seriously, it seems like just a few brief moments ago that I witnessed the Rays first pitch thrown by starter Wilson Alvarez past Detroit Tigers lead-off man Brian Hunter to produce the first game photo opportunity for Rays fans. How long ago does that March 31,1998 5:08 pm start seems today now that it has been revealed that we (the Rays) have played 2,000 contests against some of the best who have ever played this great game of baseball. I really doesn’t seem all that long to me, but then again it has been a bumpy ride at time over the last 12 ½ Rays seasons.


I would be totally absentminded if I did not to note the great baseball dignitaries that were on hand to throw out First Pitches prior to Alvarez’s low and outside first Rays MLB offering. Baseball Hall of Fame members Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Tampa’s own Al Lopez were on hand to celebrate the beginning of regular season baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Rays did begin their history with a loss to the Tigers that night, every one of their 1,136 losses still cause the same aches and pains in my heart as they did in 1998. Even if the Rays record from 1998-2007 (645-972), their first 10 years of existence is the worst MLB club mark over that 10 year period in the majors, their current win-loss record since that time has been inspirational and shows the solid growth of the franchise.

 
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From 2008-2010, the Rays have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues providing a 220-164 mark and that record growing more impressive with every game.1998 seems so long ago now, but the memories I have witnessed sitting in my Rightfield corner seat has been amazing over that 2,000 game journey. I still remember during the last home game during the 2001 season, when Rays pitcher Brain Rekar sat with me and a few friends in the Bullpen Café during the ninth inning, just shooting the breeze during his last day as a Ray. I still have the hat he gave me that afternoon with the handwritten NYPD FDNY symbols in the brim of the hat honoring the men lost during 9-11.

Even thinking of that past moment has the memories suddenly began to flow like a waterfall, remembering moment after moment both at home and when I took my fandom on the road, like my first experience with the “rain delay” aspect of the game while in Cleveland on May 14,2004. Or hitting Safeco Field for the first time in years and feeling that wind gush through the stadium and wishing for my Rays warm-up jacket. Home or away, the Rays expansive memories keep piling up and for some odd reason, the stories seem to get longer now.

 

But the aspect of this team finally hurdling that 2,000 game plateau is simply amazing to me. A quick thought to the talent that have pulled on a Rays uniform over that time period, from Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Bubba Trammel, Roberto Hernandez, Toby Hall, Jonny Gomes, Ozzie Guillen, Randy Winn, and hundreds of other great ballplayers who made Rays fans laugh, cry and cheer with the wins and losses. And the tears of sadness we expressed when former Rays players Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle were taken away too early in their lives. Experiencing not once, but twice as Rays fans grimaced and reacted to the horror of starter Tony Saunder’s breaking his left forearm in front of the home crowds.


The countless snippets of chatter and conversation over that 2,000 game span with an army of former and current Rays Bullpen members about important things like the birth of a child, or just congratulating a Rays player after a great outing. This blog is too small to even attempt to relay and include the massive amount of memories associated with those first 2,000 events. I truly hope I am physically around to celebrate the 4,000th, and even 5,000th Rays game, but we know that the game is immortal, while we are skin and bones, and nothing is guaranteed past 30-90 days anymore. The Rays memories formed by myself and the rest of the Rays Republic within the Trop could fill up a computer’s memory banks within nanoseconds.

 
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Rays fans have seen odd and confusing moments like the odd multi-million dollar contracts of Rays (then) prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay, even before they threw their first professional pitch for the organization. Or the injury and contract craziness of Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman that still baffle the mind. But there have also been great Rays player finds like Jorge Cantu, Travis Phelps, Dan Wheeler and even the Bullpen reinvention of J P Howell that saved his MLB career. But we can not neglect the shock and horrors of Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and their “Hit Show” debacle that produced more ammunition to make the Rays a laughing stock team, than as a force to be reckoned with on the Trop’s diamond.


The ups and downs of this franchise have been both extreme and subtle at the same time. No one other than Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicted the magic that would ultimately unfolded in 2008. Kazmir made an honest comment that the Rays would make the Playoffs during a 2008 Spring Training interview. Most in the assembled media circle chuckled and pushed the comment as bravado and not a reality at the moment. But Kazmir’s brave comment that day turned into one of the Rays greatest moments as we saw the team raising of that banner to the rafter of Tropicana Field proclaiming the Rays the 2008 American League Champions.

 

We have seen former MLB greats like pitchers Hideo Nomo (2005), John Rocker (2003), Bobby Witt (1999), Norm Charlton (1999) and current Yankee Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (1998-2000) take the mound for the Rays. We have also watched the batting exploits of guys like Greg Vaughn (2000-2002), Julio Franco (1999), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006) and Aubrey Huff (2000-2006) taking their shots at the outfield seats surrounding the Trop. Highs and lows, like the tidal pools have plagued this franchise until in 2008, when it seemed the proverbial ship seemed to be destined for more smooth sailing than rough weather.

 

Spectacular catches and impossible throws have begun to become routine and common place to the Rays faithful. Walk-offs, stealing home for the lead, and putting down that elusive bunt to score or advance the runners were past and future hallmarks of these Rays. And the history grows again in a few hours.


Each of us had a unique perspective or thought process in remembering and reliving these great moments of Rays history. Not one of us sees any one action the same, or reacts with the same emotion on any given aspect of the game as it unfolds in front of us. But there is one general emotion and feeling that is felt by all of us daily about this Rays team, from that first moment on March 31,1998 to tonight’s contest. We are proud to be fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, and that pride shows on every one of our faces as we begin our trek through the next 2,000 Rays games…..Play Ball!

 

Adrenaline pumping,Fists raised High, Opening Day!

 New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
Got to admit it now, but I was extremely jealous of the rest of the country, and mostly of my own American League divisional foes who got their first glance at their teams the past two days. It was a very uneasy feeling to see the Red Sox and Yankees square up on Sunday night, then take in the magic of seeing so many other teams celebrate the beginning of the 2010 season while my Tampa Bay Rays had their formal run-through for tonight’s Home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.


But quickly as the hours tick away I am getting more and more giddy with anticipation and the excitement threshold is about to borderline again on insanity as we edge closer and closer to seeing the Rays faith unfold for the first time tonight at 7:10 pm EST. But it is Opening Day, and with that comes all sorts of great magical moments that will quickly flash towards the past, present, and hopefully playoff-bound future still to come in 2010 for the Rays. And some of my fond memories of past Home Openers keep flooding my brain and bringing the excitement to untold levels as the adrenaline rushes through my body in anticipation.
 
Rushing back into my mind is a day, March 31,1998 when a sold-out Tropicana Field held so many Rays fans in anticipation of finally seeing professional baseball played here during the Major League Baseball season that some seemed to hyperventilate at the thought of this day coming true. I was situated up in “The Beach” region of Tropicana Field that night with the rest of the baseball loving workers of the local Pepsi Bottling Group and our local distribution plants as we all shouted, saluted with a few adult beverages and took in this magnificent sight from our high catbird’s seat for the night.
 
That was the last time I sat in an Upper level seat, but I cherish it because I got to celebrate with a Tampa Bay community on something I hoped and dreamed for all my young life. And to me it was a bit sad that I was 38 years old when Major League Baseball finally got a chance to be played in the Tampa Bay area, and for that, I will always envy my friend’s children who get to grow up idolizing Carl Crawford, Wade Boggs and Bubba Trammell. And it was sad that over 13 years ago, on that special night we suffered a loss to the Detroit Tigers, but it was the beginning of a long and enjoyable journey into the realms of baseball love for me.

And with the pomp and circumstance that surrounds tonight, you can be sure a tear or two might slip towards my eyelid, but never make the light of day as I again see my Rays in their home whites and blues take their place along the First Base foul chalk line as each and everyone of them is introduced to the crowd and get the ovation they al deserve from this community. But it is also another rebirth of friendships that spawn a baseball season, and the updating of information both digitally and emotionally to what has happened in the past off season. It will showcase some of the growth spurts by younger Rays fans, and maybe be an arena for introductions of new spouses, new hairstyle, or even just a renewal of our first love….baseball. 

And maybe it will feel like Opening Day 2009 to me again with a flurry of fire thrusting upwards towards the Teflon roof with a huge American flag being unfolded and slowly produce ripples like the Gulf as a singer belts out their rendition of our National Anthem. And you know the local political leaders will all get their chance to possibly hit the mitt during those famous ceremonial First Pitches prior to the game. But the game, and 2010 will not truly begin when the doors of the Trop. Open and Rays players and Coaches greet the fans, which has been their custom for what seems like forever on Opening Day.
 
It will not be the new eye candy we see as we all flow into the stadium which has taken on a new persona and a new purpose in 2010 to again bust through the door and play deep into October again. The true beginning to this 2010 season will not even take part in that time honored tribute to both teams lining up on the foul lines or seeing Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria get his Golden Glove tonight, or even Rays rookie Reid Brignac getting the Al Lopez Award for the Best Rookie in Spring Training.
The real beginning of this Rays 2010 journey will commence the moment we hear those two special words we have waited for since early October….Those words most definitely shouted loud and clear by a young Rays fan who will be the next generation of Rays fans, tonight truly is just a ballgame until we hear…..”Play Ball!”

 

 

Great to See Rocco Back in Rays Blue Again

 

            
             SPTimes.com

It was so great to see former Rays outfielder and all-around good guy Rocco Baldelli standing outside the Rays clubhouse this morning underneath the overhang at the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. It has just been over a year and a half since Baldelli last donned the same type Rays blue outerwear during the 2008 World Series games in Philadelphia, and the Rays colors still fits him like a glove.

But it did also had a bit of an eerie feel to the moment as it seems like such a long period since we saw Baldelli roaming the outfields at Tropicana Field. But there he stood this morning just smiling away with great opportunities in front of him and a chance to get healthy and help his former team’s next generation..

 
 

But even with a..that smile on his face, and his constantly shaking hands with Rays players who also gathered under that awning to see him and wait out this rain shower, Baldelli seemed to have that energized look on his face where he is totally excited to again be with this franchise, and around the game of baseball this season. I shouted over to Baldelli and he waved and then I asked him what number he planned to wear during Spring Training?
 
 

Baldelli just smiled and nodded his head and told me “we will all see soon enough”. A bit bummed, but then again, he has only been here a few hours and maybe Rays Equipment Manager Chris Westmoreland did not have his jersey done yet. I am guessing Baldelli will sport number 55 this Spring, since no one else in Rays Major League camp has that number, and it is twice as lucky as his old number 5 currently sitting on Rays DH Pat Burrell’s back.
 
 

But Baldelli was not just standing there waiting for the rain to stop so he could compete again for an outfield slot with the team, or even a part-time Designated Hitter spot, Baldelli accepted a chance today to come back onto the Rays staff as a Special Assistant with the team, and will be assigned to the Rays minor league camp and serve as an instructor during the rest of this year’s Spring Training. He will concentrate his efforts as a roving instructor focusing on base running and outfield play with budding minor league players like Desmond Jennings and 2009 Draftee Todd Glaesmann.


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Having someone of Baldelli’s caliber and skills in this year’s minor league camp will be great for a top tier prospect like Jennings so that he has a sounding board with a former top tier prospect who made that quick transition to the Major League level. And the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman jumped at this great opportunity of having an MLB-caliber player like Baldelli to come into the start of the Rays minor league camp to advise and help mentor the next generation of Rays major league ready players. Plus the ” instructor” situation also helps Baldelli by supplying professional level baseball facilities and medical attention as he rehabs from a unspecified shoulder injury Baldelli endured during his 2009 season when he played sparingly with American League East rival, Boston.

And there were a few Rays fans out in the rain with me today wondering why the Rays were civil and open to bringing Baldelli back into the Rays fold after he played for our “arch enemy” last season. And the answer is really quite simple. This situation helps both parties involved, plus it gives Baldelli a chance to realistically see if he might also be open to taking the same Coaching path of former Rays slugger Jared Sandberg and move into the coaching profession after his playing career.

 
 

It also is a perfect “win-win” situation for Baldelli as able to provide certain nuances of the game to the Rays developing players, plus he will be able to rehabilitate his shoulder injury with a Rays medical staff that already knows his past injuries and medical history, and could be beneficial in providing top notch rehabilitation care and treatments while Baldelli also works with the Rays minor leaguers and eventually works out on his own to see if playing again is in his future. But this is also a way for Baldelli to keep his head in the game of baseball and stay mentally ready to play too.

 
 

Think about it for a second here, you are a Major League baseball player and you suffered through months of pain and anguish to find yourself unwanted by your 2009 team and a free agent seeking a shot to compete somewhere, but people know of your shoulder woes, and pass you by, or tell you to get healthy and then give them a call. Baldelli is in that middle “no-man’s land” zone right now between playing, or maybe having to make a difficult career choice in the near future to pursue coaching full-time and mentoring future ballplayers, or getting the chance to regain yourself and your baseball career. How could you not see this opportunity as a positive step to see what you could or maybe pursue after your playing days are over, but also still have your options open to continue with the game.

 

 
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And the Rays have always been open to inviting former Rays players to work with their teams a ample chance to come back into the Rays organization and be a authority figure, or sports mentor to work with other Rays prospects to hone their craft and make them the best they can be in their baseball maturation process. Baldelli is not the first former Rays player to come back to his former club and provide instruction and mentor players. Ex-Ray and current Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs came back to the Rays in 2001 and served one season as their Hitting Coach before leaving the team.

Dave Martinez, who got the first hit in Rays history came back several years ago as an outfield instructor and is now sitting every game besides Rays Manager Joe Maddon as his Rays Bench Coach. And who can forget that 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame nominee Fred McGriff has spent several Rays Spring Trainings working as a Special Advisor to the Rays. Add on that scenario of the consistent growth within the Rays Coaching ranks of Sandberg through the Rays system from his first stint with short-season Princeton to his current post as Manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades for the2010 season.

And Sandberg might just be another budding former Rays player turned manager to some day patrol the benches at the Major League level within a few years. This Rays Front Office has always been open to hiring former players who understand the Rays system, and also adhere to their team’s mantra. And bringing back Baldelli right now just seems perfectly right to me.

 
 

Having Baldelli working out with the next generation of Upton’s, Crawford’s and maybe even another Baldelli just shows his passion and his drive for the little things about playing this game at it’s top level. And it is important to note here that Baldelli is not “retired”, but basically weighing his options and between jobs. Baldelli might have to take a step back like ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall did in 2009 when Hall was rehabbing a shoulder injury and get healthy before finally making some difficult decisions on his baseball future. But I personally would not bet against Baldelli not being wearing some team’s uniform at some point this season.
 
 

There is presently no talk of Baldelli wearing a Rays jersey besides his current Rays gear on his back while he does his job as a roving instructor. But the Rays and Baldelli both have left that door wide open for a future discussion about his plans. And that in itself is almost a mirror-image to the 2009 Spring Training situation where the Rays brought in rehabbing reliever Jason Isringhausen after his 2008 injuries into Spring Training with an eye to get him healthy, then make some personnel decisions.

Isringhausen eventually got healthy and appeared in a Rays uniform in 2009, but Isringhausen went down with a torn elbow ligament and had to undergo Tommy John’s surgery . Could Baldelli be this season’s “Izzy” and be able to again get back to the Major League level?

 
 

Would Baldelli even be open to taking another limited role situation with the Rays similar to his 2008 status with the team, or could there be an eye towards him being a possible in-house alternative/replacement if Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell gets injured or off to a weak start in 2009?. All these questions are streaming through my mind, and I know some of you also have those thoughts coursing through your cerebral cortex. But for now, Baldelli is here to heal and help guide and be a source of inspiration and motivation for the next generation of Rays. But that also doesn’t rule out the possibilities of Baldelli not being able to don a MLB jersey at some point in 2010.
 

 
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And there is no guarantee it would even be the Rays classic blue and white, or even a Rays Blue jersey. B ut having Baldelli here is motivation enough for me to feel better about the future of this team. Some web sites have called him the “Prodigal Son”. To some of us, Baldelli never went away, he just was on “vacation” away from the Rays. But in the end, is this the kind of guy you want on your team? Is this the type of former player you want teaching your young players “The Rays Way”?

And can the Rays prospects learn and mature hearing of Baldelli’s past and develop their own pattern to enrich their game before hitting the Major League level? To all three of these questions, I sound a loud and resounding “Yes”. Hopefully in the near future, Rays fans will see Baldelli standing on the side of the field again both his glove and a black bat in each hand, or maybe it will be Baldelli’s arms swaying and pointing a shift to one of the Rays minor leaguers to put him into a better fielding position based on the hitter tendencies, either way, it is great to see Baldelli again in a Rays uniform. Blue just seems to be his color!

Rickey Sprints into Baseball Hall of Fame

 

 
 

 

For the next few days people from all over the country, and maybe the world, including a bevy of sportswriters will be writing about their favorite Rickey Henderson moments either in stories or in his wild collection of memorable quotes.  Henderson along with former Red Sox Jim Rice will be offically inducted today into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now I will not be there, but you can bet I will as close to a television set as possible during the 2009 Induction Ceremonies to hear the speech that might either shock or amuse baseball for the rest of the year.

 

 

Everyone with in and outside of baseball are curious on how Rickey Henderson will refer to himself in his speech, and if he is going to introduce himself. Well, I actually do not think he will introduce himself, but will he pick a opponent like a catcher, or maybe another famous basestealer to do the honors for him today?

 

 

But even with the selection of Henderson earlier this year, there are a few things that have me still scratching my head about his selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The biggest surprise to me is the fact that he did not garner more than 94.8 percent of the vote. Now I did not think he was going to challenge Tom Seavers 98.8 percent, but thought he might hit the 96 plateau without a hitch. Could my idea of how well recieved he was in the MLB be a bit inflated, or do some of the baseball purist maybe see this as a time to punish him for his ‘third person” theatrics.
 

 
So why did some people not put him on their ballot? Didn’t this guy change the way we look at slap hitters and guys who put the ball down the line for drag bunts and infield hits and didn’t he usher in a new generation of basestealers in the MLB? Come on people, the guy who is the MLB career leader in runs scored and stolen bases by a huge margin is nothing more than a scrub to some BBWAA voters.

 

 

Maybe some of the voices are right, maybe we need to tweak this system a bit and weed out some of the naysayers who look more at off the field actions than on the highlights accomplished on the field. There is a difference in being a purist in your columns and heart, and maybe displaying a flaw like voting against a guy who deserves a spot based on your opinions of his career.

 



 

 
Is there any argument that Henderson  because of his power and  uncany ability to get on base ,could change a games complexity with a  single hit or a walk? Do you think that he might be the model for the induction of speed demons in the lead-off spot and not buried down in the 7,8, or 9 slots in a lineup? And do you think that Henderson might have viewed himself like a cartoon character to actually not be bothered by the critics and naysayers who thought he was a destroyer of the game? People use defensive mechanisms for many things, maybe he was before his time in not letting drama and strife destroy himself or his career.
 

The answer to all three questions is  a huge YES.


Henderson did change a pitchering staff’s mind when he was on base. It brought  into the pitchers’ mind that he could steal a base on any pitch, even a pitch-out. It did not matter if it was a 100 mph Fastball, change-up, curve, it made no difference to Henderson, any pitch was a good pitch to steal a base.  His power made you respect his plate discipline enough to not try and finesse a pitch up there, or you would be getting a fresh ball from the umpire. Henderson went to the plate 10,961 times in his career.

 

 

 


During his career from 1979 to 2003, Henderson had 3,055 hits, which in its own right should be a good consideration for the Hall of Fame. He hit 510 doubles and  66 triples. I think those numbers might have been a lot higher if he did not get more of a thrill in running and stealing bases on any pitcher that took the mound. I could see him pull up at first or second base just so he could play that cat and mouse game with a pitcher then steal the base on him and give him that grin from the bag. He might be one of the first base runners to actually try to use mind games to disturb a pitcher on the mound.

 
In his career he had 4,588 total bases.  He stole a grand total of 1,406 bases, and only got caught 335 times during his career. That seems like a low mark to be caught stealing, but Henderson made the act of stealing a base into an art form during his career. Think of the totals he would have left with if he had been active in the MLB, even at his advanced age. 
 

 

 

 


From 2000 on, he only appeared in over 100 games with one club. While he was with the San Diego Padres in 2000, he appeared in 123 and still stole 25 bases. But during his last year in the MLB, Henderson was mostly a bench player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and only made it into the game 30 times during the season. He did however steal 3 bases that year in his limited role.  But have to remember, not just did he have a few gray hairs by then, but defenses were setting up for him knowing he was in the game to get into scoring position and maybe score the winning run for his team.

 


 

 

I truly feel that the arrogance of stealing a base, along with is knack for sliding around the tags is the reason players like current Tampa Bay Rays speed demons Carl Crawford owe their basestealing careers to Henderson. Before Henderson made it an offensive weapon to truly steal a base with gusto, Lou Brock was the only other base stealer to command as much attention when on base.  But Henderson did something none of the other base stealers ever did, he tried to bait pitchers into balks and mis-throws to the plate based on his ability to steal and to take an edge off the team’s pitching game.

 

Henderson changed the lead-off position. Here was a guy who had 2,190 base on balls during his career, and could bring a new dimension to the game with four pitched balls. Every walk he was ever issued looked more like a doubler to him because he could steal a base and get into scoring position at any moment. Henderson also could hit the long ball. Lost in a lot of the translation into his base stealing is the fact he did hit 297 home runs in his career, mostly from the lead-off position. So as you can see, New York Met’s shortstop, Jose Reyes also owes a big round of applause to Henderson in making it fashionable to get dirty stealing bases in the MLB.




 

 

Now for why Henderson always talked about himself in the third-person. Some people have commented that it was a defense mechanism devised by someone for Henderson because it made his character on the field different than the man in the clubhouse after the game. It left him into a secondary world to rant, rave and just be “Rickey” while he wore the team’s colors. This might or might not be true, but if you really think about the image of being able to put your work suit on and take the punishments and the abuse while you are working, then shed those insults, opinions and wild lies when you toss them in the clothes hamper to be washed, it make a bit of sense.
 


Who among us would not relish a secondary personality or a persona that we could use at work and toss aside and forget the troubles and strife in a moments notice. This might not be the true reason for his third-person antics, but it does make good conversation for the next few months. But the antics and the stories concerning Henderson are many and both base in legend and in folly. 
 


But one of the best ones I ever heard was from a Oakland area sports story that told the story about the Oakland A’s front office finding a financial mistake in their bookkeeping. It was  showing that the team had a million dollars more than it was suppose to have in it’s coffers. After a series of check and double checks, it was concluded that they had only one conclusion to this error. A member of the Athletics management went down into the locker room and found Henderson and asked what he did with the $ 1 million dollar check the team had issued to him. Henderson remarked that he put the check under glass. Never cashed it, never even thought of the down the road consequences of the actions, just did what “Rickey” would do. 

 


 

 

I have a story of my own about Henderson based in 1984. I was a newly drafted snot nosed kid who came out to see a friend, Scott Hemond who was catching for the Oakland A’s at the time. I was in the locker room after a game and saw Henderson right before he left for the night. He was dressed to the nines, and I strolled up and introduced myself as a friend of Hemond’s and just wanted to tell him what a joy it was to watch him play baseball. 
 


He remarked how ” Rickey was happy he liked his personal style of play, but that Rickey did not like  to associate with friends of catchers’.”  It took me a second before I started to laugh and then remarked that was why I like “Ricky”, he was wihtout a doubt not predictable or even in the same league as the rest of us.   I saw him a few hours later when we went out to dinner, and Henderson came over and finally shook my hand and sat for a few moments talking to Hemond and some other players’ at the table. 
 


He finally got up and remarked to me, ” I hear you are fast?” I told him I could hold my own between the hash marks and on a  440 yard track. And then Henderson remarked,  ” Guess you never tried to push the bases around.” I only remarked that I played baseball from about 6 years old to college, but was never a demon on the base paths like him. Henderson in perfect “Rickey” form just muttered, ” There is only one Rickey, and he is leaving the building.”  I let out a huge belly laugh and pointed to him acknowledging his comment.

 


 


He was right, there is only one “Rickey.” No matter if you loved the way he played, or hated him for the flamboyant personality. The ability of this guy to get into a team’s head mentally made for a really exclusive career.  Thank goodness he is not the only one getting inducted on that Summer day. After his speech we will all need time to collect ourselves and get serious again. I do not know who will introduce him at the podium, but maybe he should research his stolen bases and find the pitcher he stole the most bases off of in his career.
 


The moment that guy steps to the mic, I will be glued to the television set watching him. Not since Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr gave their speeches when inducted have I waited for such a moment to happen. Those two men gave memorable speeches for different reasons. But you know that the world, and the entire baseball community are awaiting the final appearance of “Rickey” in all his glory and gruff. It will be an historical event that you do not want to miss.  Got to remember to TIVO that introduction.


Cursi gets ready for All Star game action

 

                   
                     RHaggerty@Flickr.com

Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him  in my baseball world.

It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi  and they have been amazing.

I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking  a few beverages and there with the fans.  I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”


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So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.

But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.

He could ask Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to throw to him with Cursi catching and all will be great in Happy Valley. But I am not sure if Hickey will want to do that on such a large stage. Not that he doesn’t have the chops or the pitching ability ( he does), but the fact si he might be concentrating on the All Star pitching staff during that first day. But it would be a simple resolution to the problem, and would bring about a unique angle to the game.

But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot?  I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..

It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the  proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.

I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball.  He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998. 

               
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And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound.  Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education.  Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays. 

So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.

Don Zimmer…………True Baseball Royalty

 


 

 

It was learned  earlier today that Tampa Bay almost lost one of their  baseball icons over the holiday season. Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer was said to have suffered a small stroke during the holidays and is resting and recovering now with a great chance for total recovery.  For this to be kept under  the covers for this long is an amazement to me.  Maybe it is because I view Zimmer as a living treasure trove of information, stories and is just plain fun to talk to about baseball, fishing and life in this area when the streetcars went down Central Avenue and the Vinoy was an abandoned building rotting away with time and not a 5-star resort nestled on the waterfront in St Petersburg.
 
 

That last statement might be interesting to some people in St Petersburg, but Zimmer has lived here,  and most of the time in Treasure Island, Florida. Zimmer first fell in love with the area when he was a player with the New York Mets. He is as much an institution to this area and to the Rays as the Don Cesar Hotel, and even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of the people who have been associated with this franchise, he has to be one of the top 5 people listed on almost everyone’s list. The only other people in my top list with him are Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, who might have a chance for the Hall of Fame starting in 2010.



 


 


I am here today to write a living tribute to the man also known as “Popeye” who has meant so much to the game of baseball and to fans of the American League East. Every team in this division has a Don Zimmer story or event. And it is for that reason that we should celebrate this amazing life and career on January 17th, which is also the date of his 78th birthday. So please feel free to remember and also visualize the times and career of this player and manager that has had a incredible life both on and off the diamond. Something you might not know about Zimmer, he wed his beautiful wife Soot ( Jean ) in Elmira, New York during a baseball game. Zimmer first began dating her in 10th grade.

 
 


 
 


Zimmer is as famous as a player as he is a manager in his years in baseball. Most people remember him as the feisty and skilled shortstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke into the majors in 1954. For the next 12 years he played in the majors, and found his first taste of success in 1955 with the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers. But he also has dealt with adversity playing shortstop for the New York Mets in 1962 when they lost 120 games.
 

 

His time in baseball was almost cut short by a in 1953 while with the St Paul minor league squad. In a game, Zimmer was struck in the temple and did not regain consciousness for 13 days.  With pressure building on his brain, he had hole drilled into his skull to relieve the building pressure and suffered from blurred vision and went from 170 to 124 pound while trying to regain his motors skills to walk and talk. He was only 22 years old when he was told his baseball career might be over for good. 
 


 

 

But Zimmer rose above the complications to regain his motor skills and again play the game he loved for a living. He was again hit by a Cincinnati fastball in the cheek in 1956  and broke his cheekbone. Again he rose from the ashes and after a steel plate was inserted into his head, again trained to begin playing baseball. If nothing else, Zimmer was a test to the art of positive thinking and determination in this point in his career. Most people would have called it quits and went about a life after baseball. But not Zimmer, he still loved the game, and the people in it.
 

 

In 1958, Zimmer followed the Dodgers to their new home in Los Angeles, then moved from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds in 1962. He then returned to the Dodgers in 1963 before finally moving onto the Washington Senators where he played his last game on the field on October 2, 1965. In his 12 years in the majors leagues, Zimmer appeared in 1095 games, compiled over 773 hits,79 homers, with 352 RBI’s and a lifetime .235 batting average. 
 

 

During his playing career he got to go to the fall classic with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and was selected for the National League squad of the 1961.  Although his hitting was not his best aspect of the game, his fielding was never called into question, He was versatile enough to play third base, second base, shortstop , and even caught 33 games in his final season in Washington in 1965. Zimmer also had the honor of playing in 1966 in Japan with the Toei Flyers.



 


 

 

But it was in the dugout where the feisty ex-player gained the respect of everyone in baseball. He started out as most do, in the minor leagues until he first stood on the field as the Third Base Coach for the Montreal Expos in 1971.  He did the same in 1972 with the San Diego Padres, but 11 games into the season, he was called upon to replace Preston Gomez as manager.  Zimmer remained with the Padres until the close of the 1973 season when he was fired and he moved on to the Boston Red Sox for the next 2 1/2 seasons.
 

 

Zimmer was then  a key figure in the 1975 World Series with the Red Sox when in Game 6 a ball was hit into shallow left field and Zimmer coaching at third base yelled to base runner Denny Doyle, ” No, No No” upon the catch in shallow left. Doyle misunderstood Zimmer and tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. The play helped set up one of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history as Carlton Fisk hit his memorable game winning home run later in the contest.
 

 

In 1976, the Red Sox did not come out confident and playing up to par, and Johnson was fired and Zimmer was given the reigns of the young Boston team.  From 1977-79, the Red Sox won at least 90 games for Zimmer. His 1978 squad won 99 game, still the 4th best record by a Red Sox team in their hallowed history. But that same season, he was remembered more for the collapse after leading the A L East by as many as 14 games. Zimmer was the unfortunate skipper at the helm when the New York Yankees finally caught the Red Sox in a series dubbed, “The Boston Massacre.” That year the team went back and forth with the Yankees before Bucky Dent sent a stake through their hearts in a one-game playoff on October 2, 1978.

 

 

 

 

During that span Zimmer made a few questionable moves that were played out in the newspapers and in the stands. He did not get along with popular pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee and further stuck the dagger in their feud when he gave the last game start during the “Boston Massacre” series to a triple-A pitcher Bobby Sprowl instead of Lee. Zimmer also might have overused Carlton Fisk during that season starting him in 154 of 162 games. Fisk would begin to have sore knee problems and missed a bunch of time in 1979 due to arm problems. 
 

 

Zimmer also kept a suspect Butch Hobson at third base even as elbow problems began to surface with the players throws to first base. Zimmer held firm to the belief Hobson could play until after a series of bad errors he was forced to call up Jack Brohamer to replace Hobson. The Boston debacle was not the last stage for Zimmer as he moved on to mange the Texas Rangers in 1981, then moved onto three stints with the Yankees and also the San Francisco giants between 1982 until 1989 when he took over the Chicago Cubs.
 

 
 
In that season, Zimmer won a divisional title for the Cubs, and was named the Manager of the Year by major league baseball.  Zimmer returned to Boston in 1992 to help one of his former players, Butch Hodson with the club.  Zimmer went onto coach on the first expansion staff of the Colorado Rockies in 1993, and in 1996 began a long tenure as the Bench Coach of the New York Yankees. He was on the bench for 4 of their World Series Championships. He also took over the Manager’s position when Joe Torre was recuperating from prostate cancer in 1999. Zimmer went 21-15 in Torre’s absence, then returned to his usual spot in the dugout again.  Those game were never officially credited to Zimmer, who won over 906 games as a manager in the major leagues.



 


 
 

But the event that further made him into a legend was the game between the Boston Red Sox and his New York Yankees during the 2003 ALCS. When a brawl began on the field, Zimmer went out onto the Fenway field and was face to face with Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez who threw the nimble Zimmer to the turf by his warm up jacket. The scene became world famous and made Martinez an instant enemy to Yankee fans throughout the nation.

 
 


 
 

In another game, Zimmer was sitting on the bench when Chuck Knoblach hit a screaming foul ball into the dugout and got Zimmer flush on the head. Zimmer used the event to evike some humor as he came out the next day wearing an army helmet with “ZIM” written in it in white.  Since his time with the Yankees, Zimmer has been the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Advisor helping the squad with expertise during Spring Training and he can often be seen down on the field in his Rays uniform during Batting Practice chatting with coaches’ and players’ daily. 



 


 
 

Zimmer currently wears number “60”, for 2008 was his 60th year in professional baseball. Every season, Zimmer moves up one more  uniform number. In 2009, Zimmer will be issued the number “61” jersey. During 2008, Zimmer was the last member of the Brooklyn dodger organization still serving in some capacity in baseball. Along with living in Seminole, Florida now with his wife, he is a proud author of 2 books, “The Zen of Zim” and ” Zim: A Baseball Life.” 
 


Thank goodness that this past holiday season did not take this great warrior away from us. The guy truly believes he has more baseball to enjoy in life, and if you have ever had the pleasure to speak to this man about baseball, you can see the twinkle in his eye as he remembers some of the greatest moments in the game.  Zimmer is recovering and is slowly getting back to his normal lifestyle.

 
 


 

 

With less than 30 days until the Rays head to Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time away from their old St. Petersburg training complex, Zimmer might not be at this years site for the first time in a long while. but the accent should be on him regaining his strength and his stamina so he can sit in the seat behind home plate again in 2009 and see his Rays again contend for the American League East title. 
 

 

I can not imagine a year without Zimmer in the organization, but you know that it will come to and end at some moment in time. Hopefully we did not see the last of this great warrior as he threw out that first pitch before Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. I truly think we have not seen the last of this great titan of the sport. He has risen before from worse odds to again smile and enjoy this great game. Hopefully his next seat will be within range of yelling at Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his players in 2009.
 
 
 
 
 

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