Results tagged ‘ World Baseball Classic ’

Longoria is California bound for the World Baseball Classic

 

 
                     

 
You can only imagine the quick suitcase packing and the nonchalant look towards the clubhouse attendant when he told them he needed to get into the clubhouse after 5 pm today. the anxious look on Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s face as he told Evan Longoria that he was “going to the the Big Show in California this weekend. But most of all, can you imagine the hustle and bustle for tickets now from the Long Beach California area now that Longoria is in route to Tampa International airport with a trip to California firmly within his grasp.
 

He will be so hyper by the time he hits Petco Park, not just for the adventure, but because he can share it with fellow Rays player and California dude, J P Howell. Longoria is the rookie again, with Howell having been in the Team USA clubhouse sine they left him in Clearwater, Florida after the Rays versus Philadelphia Phillies game back on February 28th. always great to know you have a fellow team mate already in house to get you up to snuff on the activities and the daily goings on of the World Baseball Classic.  This is not to say the two might not have talked recently, but you can bet it is going to be a great opportunity for Longoria not only to represent the United States, but to play ( hopefully) both contests in his home state in front of friends and family.
 

You know that Team USA already has a small block of tickets for him, but I think they will need more. For the former Long Beach State University student will probably have a couple hundred congratulation messages and ticket requests in the next 24 hours. I do not know if he is taking a red-eye flight out tonight to even get into the groove of this event. I know I would have sprinted out the door and gone home and got my laptop, a few personal items and basically ran all the way to the airport. This is a major opportunity for him to showcase to the west coast of the U.S. that Longoria style we have come to know and love in the Tampa Bay area.

 
 

 
 

And it all came about because of two injuries to the original members of the team that man the “hot corner”. David Wright has been the heir apparent to the third base crown for a few years, but with him also limping a bit after fouling a ball off his foot and breaking hid big toe nail, it might be a game time decision on Wright. As for the senior member of the “3B” team, Chipper Jones will be sidelined with a right oblique muscle injury that will prohibit his playing and batting in the rest of the tourney.  the official announcement did not hit the Internet until after 9 pm tonight, but he is not the only one being called up for duty in this critical stage of the World Baseball Classic.

 
Also meeting him in California will be a array of other sluggers ready and willing to provide some ammunition and power to the Team USA cause. Also getting a call tonight were Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, St Louis Cardinal Outfielder Ryan Ludwick ( who went 1-4 with a 3-run homer today against the Rays), 1st baseman Derrick Lee of the Chicago Cubs, and  catcher A J Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox. their first game will be held on Sunday, with a win, they will again play on Monday for the World Baseball classic Championship in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. But that is not all for Longoria. the Sunday opponent will also have a familiar face in Rays second baseman Akinora Iwamura, who will be on the field for Japan in the Sunday contest.

 

 

 

Congrats to Longo for his selection to play in this critical point in the WBC format. I am looking forward to the Sunday game now with great anticipation of a “coming out” of sorts for Longoria at third base. People in the U. S.  who follow baseball have gotten to see this unique rookie play for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 on his way to the American League Rookie of the Year award. But the people of Japan, Korea and Venezuela have not see the power and grace this young athlete has yet. But they will soon. So, let’s all make sure we set our DVR’s and other recorders for this game. I have a feeling this is going to be an instant classic match-up between two great baseball powers.

 
 
 
photo credits:   1) www.sports.espn.com
                        2) Donjohnson395@Flickr.com
                        3) RobertDBruce@Flickr.com
 
 
 

The Rollercoaster Year of Scott Kazmir

 
 

For years Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir has been considered one of the rising stars of Major League Baseball. As recently as 2007, he held off  a late season rush by Minnesota Twin’s fire-baller Johan Santana for the American League strikeout crown. It was a sign of greater opportunities for Kazmir.  At that moment, Kazmir was being thought of as one of the next big stars to grace the fields of the MLB, after his 2008 season Kazmir is only 47 wins away from 300 for his short career. In the past season, Kazmir began to not only believe the hype but also creat some of his own earlier in 2008.
 

Usually when you see a “Handle with Care” sticker on a package you tend to gracefully pick it up, move it and set it down. But if it is attached to one of your hard-throwing left handers, does the same thing apply?  Kazmir has gone through a interesting 12 months since the beginning of his 2008 Spring Training camp.  Kazmir had come into camp with a renewed confidence and an eager chance to put the Rays in the drivers seat in 2008. But on his last warm up pitch before throwing in a Inter squad game during the early stages of Spring Training, Kazmir felt some discomfort in his left elbow and the Rays quickly pulled him from starting the game.

 
 

On March 25, 2008 the Rays officially put Kazmir on the 15-day disabled list for a left elbow strain.  The MRI showed no damage to the joint, but was considered to only be down two weeks at the time. The injury actually was actually a bit more severe than originally thought, and the team extended his disabled list time until Kazmir could throw 90 pitches, or 5 innings of work.  After 44 days on the disabled list, the Rays activated Kazmir on May 3rd back onto the 25-man roster.  Kazmir has always been known as a public favorite when it comes to interviews and appearances during the season. 
 
 
He had always done a lot of preseason publicity for the team, actually going on local radio station 97X,  on the Fisher and Boy show and predicting 20 wins for himself and a post season or bust mentality for the team. At the moment, the Rays media and maybe the medical staff must have thought he had gotten into the good medications and made a off-the cuff remark. But Kazmir restated the prediction before the end of the interview and the legend began.  But the prediction would not be the biggest shocker of the season, when Kazmir and the Rays just days later revealed that they had agreed upon a contract extension . It was a 4-year deal for $ 28.5 million with a club option for 2012 of $ 11 million. 
 
 
At the time of the contracts announcement, Kazmir  had two years of arbitration eligibility before he would have hit the free agent market in 2010. The deal in essence sealed his next 4 years, including one year of his free agency before the club options will be considered by the Rays.  Kazmir only went out on May 27th and toss one of his best performances of the year in a  7-3 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. In the contest Kazmir struck out 10 batters and went 7 innings, giving up only 3-hits and 1 run in the game.  The game also increased his record to 4-1, in which Kazmir had a 4-game winning streak. Also of importance was the fact he has only given up 1 walk in the last 2 games.
 
 


 

 
The season looked to be turning around for Kazmir. First the great contract, and now heading to a 5-1 mark at the end of May.  In his last start of the month, Kazmir shutout the Chicago White Sox 2-0 on a 7-inning, 3-hit masterpiece. The year looked to be turning totally in his favor.  There was talk that maybe he had finally broken through the threshold that kept him from becoming one of the league’s elite pitchers.  June even started on a hot note as Kazmir again took on the Rangers and won his 6th straight game tossing 8 innings and giving up 2 runs and striking out 6 and issuing no walks in the game. It is important to watch his walks totals, in the past when that mark usually hits between 4 -6, the Rays leftie has problems in his starts.  His ERA was slowing creeping downward at  1.40, and he was listed among the American League’s best ERA’s at that point in the season.

 

But Kazmir’s luck finally ran out on June 11th when he lost for only the second time in 2008 against the  hard hitting Los Angeles Angels. In a pitcher’s duel with Angels starter Jon Lackey, both men traded strikeouts until finally Kazmir gave up a 2-run double to Macier Izturis that knocked him out of the game. Even though Kazmir got 10 strikeouts in the game, and threw over 117 pitches, it was his three walks that put the Angels  in a position to win that night. This was the beginning of a period when Kazmir would have mixed reviews on the mound for the Rays. His first hint of trouble came in the game against the Chicago Cubs when he lasted just 4.2 innings and struck out 7, but also gave up 4 walks in the game. 
 

From that June 17th contest against the Cubs, until his last start of the first half against the Cleveland Indians, Kazmir made 6 starts and settled into the All-Star break with a 7-5 record for the Rays. During that span he did have a lot of things go his way, In the June 27th game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Kazmir only lasted 5 innings, but an early rout by the Rays on  Pirates rookie Jimmy Barthmaier secured his 7th win of the season.  In his last three appearances of the first half, Kazmir went 0-2, with a no-decision. 
 

Kazmir was showing a huge difference in his pitches than earlier in the season. He seemed to be trying to place the pitches instead of just pitching his style. It was rumored that he had elbow situations again, but nothing materialized and it was just decided that his mechanics were just off right now. But what was evident to fans and players like was that he had almost abandoned his slider, which had been one of the best in the A L  when it was hitting its marks. Without that pitch, Kazmir relied more on his fastball and his change up in the first half of the season.

 

 

 
 
 

 Kazmir did have some good news in the first half of the season as he was selected to his second All-Star game. But the Rays sent strict directions to American League  All-Star team Manager Terry Francona that Kazmir was not to pitch extended innings and be kept out of the contest at all costs. That seemed to work into Franconas favor when in the top of the 15th inning, with everyone else used in the Bullpen and the bench as pitchers, he had to call upon Kazmir to throw at least one inning for the American League. Kazmir came in and on 14 pitches got one strikeout and give the American League a chance to win the contest. For his efforts, Kazmir became the first Rays pitcher to record a victory in the All-Star game. With that positive momentum, you would think it would have worked in his favor to boost both his confidence and his ability on the mound. 
 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon gave Kazmir a couple of extra days off after that All-Star game appearance before finally using him for his first start of the second half on July 21st. In his first start after the All-star game, Kazmir  went 7 innings in a 2-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s at home. In the contest, Kazmir only gave up 2hits, but he also posted 9 strikeouts and gave up 4 walks in the contest. He was not back yet with his control, but the contest helped him boost his record to 8-5 for the Rays.  Kazmir then went 3 starts with a no-decision before finally losing on August 12th against the Oakland A’s.  Over his next 4 starts he averaged only 4.5 innings of work and gave up a total of 21 hits, but only surrendered 11 runs in those games.
 

 

Kazmir was also starting to show signs of sporadic pitching in which he was exiting the game earlier than usual and not hitting his spots again. He was trying to hit the outside corners more, and the umpires were not giving him the corner and the frustration was evident on his face during his time on the mound.  Finally in his 3rd start of the year against the Rangers, Kazmir got back on the winning side by throwing a 4-hit, 2-run 7 strikeout game on August 17th.  But in that contest Kazmir again was showing a wild side as he also surrendered 4 walks to the Rangers in the game. Kazmir again took the mound on August 23rd against the Chicago White Sox and was rendered a no-decision after only going 6 innings in the game.
 

 

Kazmir finally got back on the winning horse when he won on August 29th in Baltimore with a 5.1 innings stint that produced a 3-hit shutout on 102 pitches. Also important on this day was the fact that it was the Rays 63rd victory of the year and it secured their first winning season in history.  Kazmir seemed to be riding the upward slope on his roller coaster year as he again blanked the New York Yankees on September 4th in a 1-hit shutout. Kazmir only lasted 6 innings in th contest, but again he posted 7 strikeouts in the game to go along with 4 walks. But it was the September 9th start against Diasuke Matsuzaka in Fenway Park that set the stage for the Rays claiming the American League East title.



 


 
 

In the contest, both pitchers showed early dominance until after 6 innings and surrendering 5-hits and only 2 runs Kazmir left the contest. The significance of this game was that it was the game in which Rays pinch hitter Dan Johnson took Jonathan Papelbon deep into the Red Sox Bullpen in the 9th inning before Dioner Navarro hit a double to win the game for the Rays. This victory snapped a win less streak in Fenway that had eluded the Rays all season long.  With the curse at Fenway now lifted, the Rays ended up securing the series and keep their lead in the A L East race. 
 
 
 

5 days later Matsuzaka and Kazmir again squared off at Tropicana Field and Kazmir lasted only 3 innings giving up 9 runs on 6 hits and only surviving 72 pitches in the contest. This was by far the worst appearance for the young leftie this season for the Rays, and it dropped his record to 11-7.  For one of the first times in his Rays career, Kazmir gave up as many walks as he got strikeout in the game…..4.  But it was his start on September 20th that he showed the big game presence and confidence for the Rays. In this contest against the hard charging Minnesota Twins, Kazmir threw 6 innings of 5-hit ball and shutout the visiting Twins to secure the Rays first playoff berth.  Not only did he improve his record to 12-7, but Kazmir looked amazing in the game starting to use his slider more and confused the Twins hitters at the plate.
 

 

In his last start of the regular season, Kazmir again had the chance to put his name in the Rays trivia book as he took the mound on September 25th against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park to secure the A L East for the Rays. Kazmir was not sharp and got handed a loss while going 5 innings and posting 6 strikeouts in the game. The Rays would have to wait another day before finally securing the AL East title, but Kazmir was visibly upset after the game. But with the playoffs staring them in the face, the Rays knew that they needed their young ace confident and ready to handle almost anything. 
 

 

He got his first postseason start in the American League Divisional Series against the Chicago White Sox on October 3rd and posted his first postseason win in a 6-2 victory over the White Sox to take a 2-0 lead in the best of 4 series.  Kazmir went 5.1 innings and threw 98 pitches while surrendering 8 hits and 2 runs in the game.  The Rays took their 2-0 series lead to Chicago and came back with a ALDS series victory. Kazmir then began to get ready for a rematch against divisional foes, the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series.  Because of Tampa Bay’s securing the A L East title, they got to host the Red Sox in the first two games.

 

    
 

 
 

Kazmir again got to face the Red Sox hitters on October 11th. But in this match up, it was the Red Sox who dominated Kazmir who only went 4.1 innings and threw 98 pitches before bowing out of the contest. He had given up 3 walks in the game and only posted 2 strikeouts, one of his worst pitching statistics of the season. His ERA skyrocketed to 10.38 for the postseason, but the Rays did come back in the contest to score the winning run on a B J Upton sacrifice fly to right in the 9th inning to win 9-8.  
 

 

On October 16th, Matsuzaka and Kazmir met again and this time it seemed as if Kazmir had the upper hand in the game. In the game Kazmir did his part by going 6 innings and throwing only 2 hits in shutting down the Red Sox offense. But after he left the contest, the Rays Bullpen had troubles and Kazmir ended up with a no-decision for his efforts that night en route to a 8-7 Red Sox win.  Kazmir did get to lower his ERA to a more respectable 4.35 with the outing. Kazmir did not get to pitch again in the ALCS, but with the Rays clinching a victory in Game 7 at Tropicana Field, they were heading to their first World Series berth.
 

 

Kazmir got the call for Game 2 at the Trop., and he proved up to the occasion as he go the start during the first game of the series. He was pitted against Cole Hamels, and the two pitcher were throwing a fantastic game until the Phillies broke loose in the game after Phiilies catcher Carlos Ruiz grounded out to Jason Bartlett to score the third run of the game and put the Phillies up 3-0 on the Rays.  Kazmir ended up throwing 6 innings of 6-hit, 3 run ball, but he also had control issues in the contest as the Phillies were waiting for his pitches outside and took advantage of his wildness. He ended up posting 4 strikeouts and 4 walks in the game on 110 pitches. That was the last time he took the mound for the Rays in 2008.
 

 

After starting his season later than usual, Kazmir did end up starting 27 games and going only 152.1 innings. He did end up giving up the least amount of earned run on the staff with 59 for the year, but also threw less innings in the season. Kazmir did not have a banner year or post season, and people were beginning to question his pitch selection and placement at the plate. Some even thought that he lost his confidence in his slider, and that he might not get it back in time to save a great career. But in the last two post season series, Kazmir did indeed use his slider more and more and it was pretty effective against hitters once again.
 

 

In the off season, Kazmir went to work on a strength program where he added about 20 pounds to his frame to help him endure the rigors of pitching more in 2009. When he came into camp earlier in the year there was a sizable difference to him in that his forearms and shoulders did have an added depth and his overall body core looked more lean. He was also selected to be a member of the Team USA squad for the 2009 World Baseball classic. Kazmir was looking to represent his country and maybe even pitch during the first round action against Team Canada in Toronto. But the Rays expressed their desire that he not participate in the WBC because of the workload he endured in 2008.
 

 

Even if he did throw less innings, they were worried that the short off season might have after effects on his pitching. So yesterday it was announced that the WBC was taking Kazmir off the Team USA roster because he spent 44 days on the disabled list in 2008. Tampa Bay had filed a request with Major League Baseball that would effectively prevent him from playing in the classic. Players who were on the disabled list for 45 days can be blocked from playing.  Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman told  Bill Chastain of MLB.com that, “We felt with the health issues he had at the beginning of last season, coupled with playing the extra month, we felt the prudent thing to do is to push him back a little bit this spring.”

 
 

 

I am going to tell you how it is in my world about this revelation by the Rays to prevent him from playing in the classic. I am appalled that the Rays will not let this guy participate. The WBC has pitch counts set, and also have precautions in place to help prevent injuries and problems that could linger into the regular season. you might only get one chance to represent your country, and it is a great honor to even be considered, much less told you will be a valued member of the staff. The Rays took a huge opportunity from Kazmir here that would be a highlight of his career. 
 

 

Ken Griffey Jr, and even Chipper Jones have stated in the past that this is one of the most memorable honors of their careers. For the Rays to take that from Kazmir is showing that management is not afraid to overstep the boundaries to secure their wishes.  Considering that the Rays are going to split their pitching staff into two groups during the Spring Training games shows that they plan on monitoring their pitching staff and also giving them minimum innings before the regular season. Why not let Kazmir play for Team USA, you are letting Rays reliever J P Howell play without any reservations to your Bullpen setup guy maybe getting hurt in the classic.
 
 

 
Photo credits for today’s blog go to RRCollections and the Associated Press Corp photo pool.

 

 

2009 World Baseball Classic……Current and Former Rays Players

 

 


With the World Baseball Classic also about to have members of their teams report to their respective training sites within the next 2 weeks, I was wondering what current and past Rays might be included in the countries rosters. Now the list I am about to throw out here will be based on the provisional 45-man roster that was due a few weeks ago. People will come and go from this roster, and also might not make it onto the 25-man roster that will fill each teams squad when they begin their games.
 


The Rays have a total of 8 members who were originally selected for the WBC’s squad 45-man rosters. Now we all know that certain members of the team, like current Rays first baseman Carlos Pena ( Dominican Republic ) will not be attending the training camp due to a recent surgery to fix some  lower abdominal tearing suffered during 2008.  Pena underwent minor surgery in Philadelphia ( of all places ) on January 8th and will be ready for Spring Training. Also skipping the Classic will be Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. He was originally selected by the Mexican squad, but Garza had off season surgery in November 2008 to repair an old foot fracture on his right foot. According to Fox Sports on MSN, the team did not grant him a medical clearance to play in the classic.  According to WBC rules,  MLB players who undergo off season surgery are normally ineligible unless their clubs specifically give them clearance to take part in the event. At this moment, the Rays medical staff or the team have not granted this clearance to Garza.
 


Recently, Venezuela lost one of their two provisional catchers on January 20th when Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro decided he was not going to participate in the Classic.  That will leave the squad a little thin at the position with Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez the only one currently on the roster.  Navarro did catch all 16 games in the 2008 Playoffs and the extra rest might do him good. Also considering he is going to his first arbitration hearing on February 9th, it might just be a nice good faith gesture to the Rays on his 2009 commitment to the team.
 


With those three players coming to the new Spring Training site in Port Charlotte, Florida for sure for the Rays, it will still leave 5 members participating for the team in the Classic. Another player who has garnished a lot of attention recently is Australian Grant Balfour. The Rays hard talking and hard throwing right-hander recently agreed to a one-year contract to stay out of arbitration with the team. It has not been announced if the contract would enable him to play in the Classic, or report to the Rays training facility instead.

 
 


 


If Balfour is able to pitch for the team, he will probably be their designated closer, and will certainly be worth the price of admission to just hear him chat it up with the ball on the mound. Balfour came into the public eye around the country more during the American League Divisional Series when Chicago White Sox shortstop Orlando Caberera took exception to Balfour’s shouting on the mound to be towards him and not the ball. Since that time he has widely photographed on the mound, and sound bytes have been recorded of his  mound conversations between pitches.
 


Even though the Australian team might have one of the most colorful players in the Classic in Balfour, his team has been pitted in the group with Cuba and Mexico in the first round. The games, being played in Mexico City could be a tough test for the young squad. If the Aussies were to fall out after the first round, the Rays could have Balfour in camp around March 14th.


 
 
 

 


The United States team will have their share of youth courtesy of the Rays when they selected pitchers Scott Kazmir and J P Howell for the team. Also making the 45-man roster is 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year third baseman Evan Longoria. Many people think that Longoria might not make the 25-man squad with the likes of New York Met David Wright and the Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones. But Longoria also might make it as a bench player based on his outstanding rookie season and his timely hitting for the Rays during their playoff run.
 


With both Wright and Jones selected on the team, the Rays might also see Longoria by February 23rd when the positional players are mandated to report to their complex. The situation between Scott Kazmir and J P Howell might have a different scenario entirely. On the US’s initial 45-man provisional roster, Kazmir is 1 of 3 starting left-handed pitchers on the squad. He will be joined by southpaws Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres.  I can see  all three pitchers making the squad without a problem.


 

 



When pitcher Jon Lackey of the Los Angels Angels announced he was not going to participate in the Classic, Kazmir might have been given a chance of  making the 25-man roster on February 24th, and with the current pitching rules it might just  be a more intense spring training outing for the leftie. the current WBC rules call for starting pitchers to only throw 70 pitches in the first round, 85 in the round two, and up to 100 in the semi-finals and finals. The pitch count was raised this year by the WBC steering committee for the 2008 games.
 


This might actually be good considering that might be the pitch count the Rays might also have for their pitchers in their first few starts of the spring. Kazmir might even get an early shot to start with Team Canada having a mostly left-handed lineup in the Opener in Toronto on March 7th, or he could see action in Team USA’s thrid game, which might be a winner-moves-on rematch with Canada in the double elimination round. But whatever does happen for either of the Rays pitchers’, you can be sure that the Rays will have scouts at every game that Kazmir and Howell might pitch in to watch their progress or spot and impending injury.
 



Rays reliever J P Howell made a name for himself in 2008 by giving up his dream as a starter and concentrating on his reliever skills. What it got him in 2008 was a banner year for the southpaw with a chance to play for his country. Among the relievers for the U S team, Howell is one of 5 current southpaws on the provisional roster. Howell has a nasty curve that is only a few clicks slower than his fastball. This has been is deception to hitters in 2008, but will the same magic come early for him during the classic. 
 



With the US roster having heavyweights like Matt Thorton of the White Sox, B J Ryan of the Blue Jays, George Sherill of the Baltimore Orioles and closer Brian Fuentes of the Angels, the team might be stacked high with left handers prior to the Feb 24th cut down date for their 25-man roster. But the addition of Howell with his off-speed pitches might be the answer for the hard throwing starters and relievers in the US pitching staff.  The WBC currently doesn’t stipulate any hard rules concerning the relievers, but a rule that was instituted this year might come into play down the road. If any pitcher throws 30 or more pitches in the semi-final, he will not be eligible for the finals. Hopefully that rule will not play out for any of the Rays pitcher, or the U S during the Classic.


 
 

 


That leaves one more Rays player to talk about, and he is playing for the reigning WBC champions. Akinora Iwamura played in 6 games in the 2006 Classic and batted .389 for the Japanese team.  Iwamura has not officially not committed to the squad, but he did suffer a hamstring injury during the 2006 Classic and might consider pulling his name from the roster. He is the one Rays player currently on the fence about playing in the Classic. The players are also reporting earlier to the Pool “A” training sites because they play the first games of the Classic starting on March 5th. 
 


But several ex-Rays players will be competing for spots among the WBC participants. Playing for Team Australia,with Balfour will be left-hand pitcher Damion Moss, who went 0-1, with a 13.5 ERA in the 2006 Classic.  Team Italy will have two former Rays in journeyman catcher Sal Fasano and  infielder Robert Fick, who are both trying to make their first WBC rosters.  Team Canada will have former Rays catcher Pete La Forest, who hit .300 during the 2006 Classic in 3 games for the squad.  Team Dominican Republic could have former Rays outfielder Jose Guillen  when they finalize their roster on February 24th.
 


Team Korea will have former Rays starting pitcher Jae Seo on their squad. Seo started 3 games in 2006 and pitched to a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings for the Korean team.  Team Mexico will feature current Florida Marlin and ex-Rays Jorge Cantu in their infield. Cantu played in 6 games in 2006, and hit .333, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI’s for Team Mexico. The Puerto Rican squad will feature two former Rays who might not make the finals squads in catcher Raul Casanova, who played for the New York Mets last season, and ex-Rays and Cincinnati Reds catcher Javier Valentin, who played first base for 3 games in the 2006 classic hitting .500 in those games.


 
 


 


Rounding out th
e squads will be former Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano, and Rays Expansion pick Bobby Abreu for the Venezuelan squad. Zambrano and Abreu both participated in 2006. Zambrano played mostly in relief for the squad throwing 2.2 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA, with 3 strikeouts. Abreu, a Rays for only a short time before being traded to the Philadelphia Philles for Kevin Stocker, played in 6 games and hit only .150 in the Classic. So as you can see the Rays have a decent history of ex-player playing in the WBC for their respective countries.

 


The WBC begins with Pool “A” getting started on March 5th in Tokyo, Japan with Japan versus China in the first contest. The Classic will conclude on March 23, 2009 in Dodger Stadium. With good luck and no injuries suffered during the Classic by the Rays players participating, the team might have all their players in camp by March 24th, with 10 games left in their Spring Training schedule. The Rays will get a glance at the 2009 Puerto Rican squad when they square off at  Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on March 5th at 7:05 p.m.
 


Up in the Tampa Bay area, the locals can take in games featuring the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies against Team Canada on March 4th at 12:05 p.m., and Team USA on March 5th at 1:05 p.m, with both games being played at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  Also in Pinellas County, the  Toronto Blue Jays will get first crack at the Tam Canada squad on March 3rd at 1:05 p.m., with a Team USA contest set for March 4th at 1:05 p.m., both games at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. And New York Yankees faithfuls can come out and watch their boys take on Team USA first on March 3rd at 1:15 p.m., and Team Canada on March 5th at 1:15 p.m. in Tampa, Florida at George Steinbrenner Field.



 

Will the WBC Dilute the A L East Rosters during the Spring ?

 

 
 

One of the biggest questions that I am either emailed or asked in public is what will the Rays be like in 2009? It seems to be on the minds of any baseball fan, not only those wearing the classic “TB” on their caps. I have had New York Yankee and Boston fans ask me the same things, ” Is the offense better?”, or ” Will our pitching stay healthy in 2009?”  These questions are right up there with the ” Is there life on other planets?” questions right now in my mind.

 

I actually think it is too early to even consider any type of prediction or even attempt to find those answers until they begin to hit and throw the ball in a few weeks. People forget that a bulk of some teams,  including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Rays will not be presenting 100 percent of their their true lineups this Spring because of the World Baseball Classic. The classic this year will take a  measurable amount of players from all 30  MLB teams rosters, but there are three teams that train in Florida where the bulk of the eyes of the American League will be from Feb. to late March 2009.



 


 

 

That is because the three teams that have a shot at either retaking or defending the American League title will not be up to full potential strength until after teams have begun to be eliminated from the classic.  We all know that their are certain teams that might not make it out of the first round, but people thought that about Korea in 2006, and they almost shocked the world by beating Japan. So with the “borrowing” of some of their starting players for a short period of time during the spring, the Rays and others in baseball, might use the time wisely and bring up some of their prized prospects to give them some needed seasoning and work against the major league players still in attendance.
 

 

This is not to mean that the  two leagues, the Cactus and the Grapefruit will be water down at all, but it will suffer from some identity crisis  in the beginning of the spring games. And would it really be so bad if an unknown pitcher took advantage of his situation and totally made a name for himself in the absence of his team’s dominating pitchers. But isn’t that what Spring Training is really all about, to give the rookies and the minor leaguer’s a chance to change the  minds of those people in charge about sending them down and make them sweat the fact that they might have to keeping them around until the last moment.  
 

 

That is the great thing about baseball. A guy like the Rays prospect Rhyne Hughes can come in and fill in some games for Carlos Pena while he is with the Dominican Republic squad and maybe turn some heads. We all know that Hughes had an outstanding Arizona League season, and might be able to turn his off season playing time into a shot at an upper level of the franchises minor league system. But it can also go the opposite way for a team. It could further show the defects in their system by showing their depth is actually pretty shallow in comparison to their anticipation of their minor league system. But like I always say, that is why we play 162 games before we even think of championships.



 


 

 

But the true tradition established the last few years with the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees will not be on display until late in the spring when all the teams have their usual guys back in house and hopefully physically able to compete the rest of the spring. For example, the Boston Red Sox have a total of 15 players that will compete in the classic. Almost their entire starting infield and designated hitter will play in the WBC, and then you include players like Daisuke Masuzaka and Hideki Okajima who will be competing for the 2006 champion Japanese squad. Boston will also only be missing one outfielder for the classic, Jason Bay who is playing for Team Canada.
 

 

Then you have the Yankees, who will send 13 total players throughout the classic’s rosters, and also will be 3/4 of their starting infield during the classic. Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are already committed to playing for their countries, but besides Melky Cabrera and two relief pitchers, the Yankees have a larger contingent of minor leaguer’s going than most teams. They will have 7 players in their minor league system going to the classic, including Zhenwang Zhang, who will be playing for Team China.



 


 

 

The you have the current American League champion Tampa Bay Rays who will be sending 8 starters to the classic. You have 3/4 of their infield also participating, with Akinora Iwamura playing for Japan, and starter Matt Garza throwing for Mexico in the classic. Grant Balfour will be throwing for the Australian team, and Dioner Navarro will catch for the Venezuelan team. Out of the Rays roster, they will be missing two starters as Scott Kazmir has also committed to playing for the US team along with Evan Longoria and J P Howell. 
 

 

But what about those questions posed to me earlier in the post, what do I think at this moment. Well, we all know what happened in 2008.  Will this team be able to effectively defend their American League crown knowing that the big boys in the A L East not only reloaded, but outspent and out hustled everyone else in baseball to again try and take the top spot away from the Rays. Will the huge money spent on pitching and hitting in New York be enough to overtake the confident team in the south. And if you are a Yankee fan, the pitching right now looks superior to everyone, but not one pitch has even been thrown yet.



 


 

 

It might be too early to claim victory with an entire season of games still left to play in the season. I admit that the Yankees will not be the shell of a team that we saw in 2008, but at what cost will they be more powerful. A lot of things have to gel for this squad to really propel itself past the top two current ” Beasts in the East.” that is not to say that even in Boston they are done making changes or acquiring the rights pieces to fight for their title. Believe me when I say that the Red Sox pretty much have a stacked arsenal of pitching arms that even make the Yankees jealous.
 

Some people predict a close A L East, with the second team not even making the playoffs because of the parity of the division might make then winner only post about 92 wins in 2009. I can see that scenario happening without a problem.  This division is not all Yankees, Red Sox and Rays though. Toronto and Baltimore also will have a huge say in who will represent this division in 2009. Toronto will still have a great pitching staff that will defy and derail a few winning streaks , and the Orioles will be young and hungry, and that is a bad team to have to play 17 times a year.

 

Predictions can go out the window for this division in 2009. No one will be able to predict the amount of wins, or the team that will rise to the top.  This might be the best fight for a right to play in October that baseball has seen in the long, long time. Will the money enhanced team be the final winner?, or will it be the team with a heart as big as the dome they play in nightly?. Or could it be the squad that just added pieces and did not rehash or even redesign itself in the off season to fit it’s division?.

 

 


 

 

After the next 50 days, we will begin the prelude to 2009′s MLB season. With all of the AL East contenders playing in Florida, it will be a fun month of March watching the battles and the adjustments by every squad. But until the teams get their guys back from the classic, we will not be able to fully comprehend or even evaluate the team with any true clarity. But the great thing is that this spring we will be able to see a lot of the future stars for these teams compete and maybe even show us what is in store for the next 6 years coming out of their minor league systems.
 

 

This years spring training might not be about the stars getting ready to play the season. It might belong to the guys who are struggling at the minor league level to show that they belong and maybe make a few roster decisions harder come April. But then again, you have to love watching  the young pups playing hard, working for positions, and fighting for their collective lives on the diamond. Spring is going to be fun this year. Hopefully the hottest action is not in the air, but on the turf this year. We will be better fans for it.

 

 


The World is Loving Baseball

 
 Baseball has always had a International flair to it even before the World Baseball Classic made it’s first pitch in 2006. And with the Olympics dropping  baseball from it’s medal sports again, it is a time in the world where the sport needs to grow and to show the rest of the IOC that it is a world wide sports loved and adored and should be again in the Olympics. 
 
In 2009, the Major League Baseball bigshots and the world association will again embark on another World Baseball Classic. With a new administration in Washington for the United Sates, maybe a panel will be developed to again petition and reinstate the great game of baseball to the Olympic experience. With that in mind, I decided to look at a few other places in the world  that play this great game, and a few that are just getting their first taste of baseball.
 
 
First Stop:  Japan

 

             

 

Japan has been one of the coutry of the world to slowly recommend and recognize that women can sometimes be as beneficial to business and sports as their male counterparts. There are not many female athletes outsdies of the tennis and golfing ranks who have captured the attention of the world.

But today in Tokyo, a sixteen year-old schoolgirl with a mean and wicked knuckleball has been selected as the first woman ever to play alongside the men in Japanese professional baseball. More amazing is the fact she is not only competing at a professional level, but that she is using the old school pitch as her primary weapon on the mound.

Eri Yoshida was drafted for a new independent league that will launch in April, drawing attention for a side-armed knuckler that her future manager Yoshihiro Nakata said was a marvel. She will play for the Kobe 9 Cruise team in the league. The new independent league will be used as a feeder system to the upper echelon of team currently playing in Japan.

Yoshida, who only stands about five foot and weighing in at a elfish 114 pounds, says she wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. As many know in the MLB, Wakefield was an average ballplayer until he experimented with the pitch abd it began a second coming of his career. By using the knuckleball as his primary pitch, Wakefield has been able to further extend his career beyond his playing days in the infield.

A female professional baseball federation existed for a few years in the 1950s, but Yoshida will become Japan‘s first-ever woman to play alongside professional male players.

 

Second Stop:  India

 

 

Most people in India  have never heard of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Jackie Robinson. They can tell you about Sachin Tendulkar, one of India’s greatest cricket players, but would tell you Michael Jordan is a clothes designerand underwear model, not a former professional basketball great.

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, two 19-year-olds from small villages in India, desperately want to live the American dream. Their shot at it is a decidedly improbable one. They had never picked up a baseball until a year ago. Thursday, they will pitch in front of major league scouts in Tempe, Ariz., in hopes of landing a professional baseball contract.

Singh and Patel threw the javelin in India, and Singh played some cricket. When they came to the USA in May, Singh and Patel had no idea how to play catch, let alone use a water fountain. The first time they played catch, they threw the ball, and when it came back, they dropped their gloves and caught barehanded.

Singh came to the United States with Patel after being declared winner of the Million Dollar Arm contest in India, run by promoter Jeff Bernstein, Barry Bonds’ marketing agent. The contest — the second edition is scheduled to begin this month and targets India because of its population of 1.1 billion even though the country has never produced a major leaguer — was based on those who could throw the most pitches 85 mph or faster for strikes. Singh consistently hit 87 mph and earned $100,000.

When veteran major league scout Ray Poitevint went to India to see whether he had potential, he also recommended Patel, who threw harder but wasn’t as accurate.  Singh, who resides in Bhadohi, became the richest person he had known with his contest winnings. He was a month away from joining the Army. His entire family — he is the youngest of eight children — worked in agriculture, where his dad earned $25 a month to drive a vegetable truck. Now, Singh says, his father pays someone else to drive the truck while he stays home.

Patel, who lived in Varanasi, isn’t sure whether his family — he has two brothers and one sister — quite understands what’s happening. He received $2,500 with an all-expenses trip to the USA. All they know for sure is that he’s an awful long way from home. Patel and Singh are scheduled to travel to India on Nov. 11. They plan to stay for three weeks, and then return to the United States, where they hope to begin their professional baseball careers.

The letters and phone calls to major league general managers went out weeks ago, and judging by the early responses, agent Jeff Borris says, there could be a large turnout Thursday.  There will be at least 20 major league teams represented at the workout, Borris says; at least a half-dozen teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, confirmed  they will attend.

House believes it’s no different from visualizing young Dominican pitchers in the major leagues. Simply, he says, every team must project the future in these two raw pitchers.

Singh, a 6-2, 195-pound left-hander, throws 89-90 mph with a split-fingered changeup. He continually tinkers with different breaking balls. Patel, a 5-11, 185-pound right-hander, throws 91-92 mph with a circle changeup. Patel says he’s the conservative one of the two, leaving the experimenting to Singh.

No matter what transpires, Singh and Patel say, they have had no regrets.

 

Final Destination:     Italy

 

 

Italian officials accepted their bid to the2009 World Baseball Classicthe other day. Even though it featured MLB players of Italian heritage like Mike Piazza and Jason Grilli, the Italian team went only 1-2 in the 2006 tournament. Hey, at least they beat the Aussies.

But judging by the way these three are handling these baseballs, I don’t give them much of a chance in the ’09 edition, either. 

To most people, “Italian baseball” probably sounds like a sports oxymoron, something akin to “Jamaican bobsled team.” Italian art, food, fashion, film — sure. But Italian baseball?

Yet Italy, with a proven track record in international competition, was one of only two European teams — along with the Netherlands — to be invited to the  original 16-team World Baseball Classic.  A major goal of the Classic was to foster the development of the sport in countries such as Italy, where, at its highest level, baseball currently operates as a semi-professional league relying on the generosity of sponsors who invest heavily and make no profit.

 

              

 

Wishing to field a competitive team in a tournament that featured many of the best players in the world, the Italian federation chose a roster that included both Italian players and Americans of Italian descent with minor or major league experience, including as its marquee player future Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza.

To qualify for the team, American players had to prove they were eligible for Italian citizenship based on their ancestry. That decision stirred some controversy in Italy. As expected, Italy did not advance past the first round, losing to the talent-laden teams from Venezuela (6-0) and the Dominican Republic (8-3) after beating Australia in the opening game (10-0). But everyone associated with the team came away feeling pleased with their performance and proud to have represented Italy on the big stage.

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