May 2011

Unwritten Rules Need to be Written in Pencil….So We Can Constantly Edit Them

With Monday afternoon’s jabber-jawing between Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and Chicago White Sox hurler Jon Danks during a spirited contest, it seems maybe a few Major League Baseball players have forgotten some of the”Unwritten Rules” of baseball. Some of the interpretations of these age-old visions of sage advice could have finally reached their expiration date, while other’s just seem to live out an eternal life without a hint of compromise. 

Everyone has heard their own stories or versions of these  unspoken “Codes” or “Unwritten Rules” while playing the game of baseball. They might have been passed down by your first Baseball Coach, your father or grandfather , or possibly a veteran player. While the code has been encircling the game for a long, long time, it is still a very taboo subject to be mentioned in or outside the clubhouse, much less divulged for the media or “outsiders”.

In fact, some MLB players are still uneasy to chat openly about them “on the record”. For if they talked about a set of parameters or even rules of conduct within the scope of baseball, (most admit there are a set of rules) it can be considered a blatant disrespect of the game and can be dealt with internally by team Kangaroo Courts or even worse.

This might be the real  life sports version of of Pandora’s Box that we all read about as young kids. The essence of this covert “code” were initially built on the game within the game, and not on the basic rules for playing the game. It can viewed as a system of checks and balances within the scope of the game using versions of  intimidation, retaliation and possible retribution chalk lines. 

Its main goal seems to be squarely centered on keeping the game on an even playing field, with no see-sawing of emotions or out of character action within the finely defined scope of the contest. But who is really right here? 

Who out of these two self-proclaimed “defenders of the game” was in the right during that Blue Jays/White Sox  staredown? Actually, they both seemed to have great cause for their vocal opinions to be the supreme guidance that day. The unwritten bible from baseball infant stage to probably 1950 was envisioned because of the low scoring contests and a more gentlemanly aspect of the game.  

My generation was taught from an early age to “never give up” or ” fight until the last out.”  While some youth baseball leagues do not even keep score, and everyone gets to play in the games. And that is fine at the grass roots level, but not in a professional environment such as Major League Baseball. So looking at the game in the retrospect of the past, then some of the rules seem a bit too restrictive and have no sort of wiggle room for sideways interpretation needed to be excavated. Where do we draw the line?

Where is it that we can make the needed changes or attempt to bring to light some of the outdated and antiquated rules that seem to beg for a extreme makeover. First let’s take a gander at some of these older established “U
nwritten Rules” and you can be your own judge, jury and executioner on if they are in fact in need of a little twisting or restructuring ( I am not putting the rules in any order).

 Unwritten Rule: Never bunt to break up a no-hitter. 

 If an opposing pitcher just has your number that day, you should honor that event with an element of class and respect, not try and throw it under the bus to establish your own agenda. I’ve never understood this unwritten rule. What if there is not a no-hitter and the score is 0-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning and the team at bat tries to bunt? Isn’t it considered a viable option for the team to try and win that contest at any cost, but then bunting in a no-hitter situation is thought of as a cheap way to end a no-hitter? 

Unwritten Rule : Do not show up the pitcher after hitting a home run.

I think that this rule is going to get more and more intense in the next few years. As relievers and starters  are adjusting to their own emotional outbursts on the mound, the actions of the batters have been deemed to stay consistent and not provoke a  retaliation or bean ball or even a well placed intentional pitch high and inside at another hitter.

When a batter hits a home run it is considered rude to jump up and down and celebrate or to watch and admire your homer.  Some say tossing your helmet either towards a dugout or give eye contact to the opposing team before crossing the plate in a “Walk-off” situation is also considered taboo. I  can understand this rule in the game, but if it is a game-winner, You have to consider the rush of emotions that will explode within a players as he rounds those bases. I think I could take a bit of a breather knowing it is a classic event and let the batter slide ..maybe.

Unwritten Rule: If the opposing pitcher hits one of your batters then you must retaliate and hit one of their batters.

Sometimes there is a reason for a pitcher to take offense to a hitter. Plucking a hitter has always been a part of the game. And most hitters know when it is going to happen to them in their career no matter if they are respectful or not. Most of the time, a hitter knows it is coming, but sometimes pitchers can take an isolated hitting incident from the far reaches of Leftfield and run the situation into a personal vendetta against a hitter. Basically saying that “the other team has insulted us now we’ll show them!”

That’s the ballplayer’s intuition, or sixth sense, taking over. And here is another thing: If a batter gets nailed with a 95 mph fastball on the fleshy part of his thigh, he had better not act like a baby and start rubbing it. No way. He should suck it up and be a man by simply “walking it off” on his way to first base. Period. A batter can never let a pitcher know that he hurt him, that would be a psychological advantage and a clear sign of weakness. 

So here I have listed a few of the “Unwritten Rules” that most of the fans of this great game might already know. There are pages of antiquated and outdated rules that do need to be readdressed and potentially modernized to support the current pace and future aspects of the game. But it is not my place to sport the revolution of the rules .

That has to be done within the confines of the sport itself.  Either by the members of the teams, their managers, the Major League umpires, or even the guy who lines and grade the turf and clay for each game at your ballpark. Isn’t it a grand notion to know that a set of rules ,or a simple code, still alive and in place to keep the respect and the admiration of the game within guideline for all of us to enjoy.

To Protect and Serve…..Remembering Those Who Served Today

When I was a small child I saw those words emblazoned on a Los Angeles Police Department car in the popular TV show “Adam-12“. It took a handful of years for me to personally experience and learn how important and honorable those words really are, and know the courage and bravery needed to ascend to that plateau of serving and defending the liberties we have been granted by generations of fighting souls.

On this day of memorial and remembrance, I want to honor those who have given of themselves for the freedoms that all of us at one time or another have mistakenly taken for granted. We have all at a moment of lapse forgotten the sacrifices, perils and constant danger that lurks outside our democratic comfort zone.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude and  heartfelt  “Thank You” to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so I can enjoy the life I have in this country. On this Memorial Day I feel a moral imperative to pay extreme homage to those who have also played this beautiful game of baseball, plus interrupted their careers to  answer the call from their nation to serve with honor and dignity.

Instead of talking about The Tampa Bay Rays, or even Major League Baseball today, I want to salute 2  Baseball Hall of Fame members who answered the call of duty to serve in our military ,and unselfishly sacrificed pieces of their professional careers for our freedoms today. I want to honor them for their commitment to this great country and hope that we all remember them today along with the many other brave men and women who should be saluted daily for their courage and heroic deeds in defending our freedoms.

It has been said that over 4,500 players swapped their baseball uniforms for the assorted colors of the United States Military just during World War II.  Not all of these brave men were in the Major Leagues at the time, but the entire minor league system in this country saw platoons of men from within the minor league ranks also volunteer and enter the draft during the war. They did not get the fan fare of the high profile MLB players, but their part in the military machine was just as important and vital to the overall success.  It has been estimated that at least 125 members of baseball minor leagues gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.

We all know some of the  hallowed names associated within the game with military ties like Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg,Joe DiMaggio and former Phillies Manager Danny Ozark.  Yes, even Managers, Coaches and Umpires also were among those who joined the ranks of the many military branches to fight during the European and Pacific Theatre campaign. Today I am going to feature 2 of the many who left their cleats and gloves in their lockers and exchanged them for the weapons of war.

I have chosen Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller and Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn as my blog subjects. Both of these men have been personal  baseball heroes of mine while growing up and I felt it was only right on this day of remembering the sacrifices and losses of so many brave souls to include these 2 baseball greats who gave up time willingly during the formative years of their brilliant baseball careers to fight along side people like my father and his three brothers.

There currently are over 33 inducted members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York who served during World War II.   Memorable players like Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider,and Ted Williams. Many of the top tier players of that era of the game served during World War II.

Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller 

On December 8,1941, the day after the Japanese  unprovoked attack on the fleet of Navy vessels anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,  Cleveland Indians fireballer Bob Feller enlisted in the United States Navy. He was sworn in by former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Gene Tunney, at the Chicago courthouse.

Feller was first assigned to the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia, as part of Tunney’s physical fitness program, and pitched for the Naval Base’s baseball team.But Feller was not happy. “I wanted to get out of the Tunney program and in to combat,” he told author William B Mead. “So I went to the gunnery school there. And I went on the USS Alabama that fall.”

Feller spent the next 26 months as a Chief Petty Officer assigned to an anti-aircraft gun crew on the USS Alabama (BB-60), a South Dakota-class battleship. “We spent the first six or eight months in the North Atlantic. I was playing softball in Iceland in the spring. We came back in the later part of the summer, and went right through the Panama Canal and over to the South Pacific. We hung around the Fiji islands for a while, and then when we got the fleet assembled, and enough men and equipment to start a successful attack, we hit Kwajalein and the Gilberts and the Marshalls and then across to Truk.”

The USS Alabama returned to the United States in the spring of 1945, and Feller was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in  upper Illinois, where he coached the baseball team and pitched to a 13-2 won-loss record with 130 strike outs in 95 innings. He returned to Major League Baseball in August 1945, and in his Indians debut at home in Cleveland, he beat the Tigers, 4-2, in front 46,477 adoring fans.

 In January 1946, Feller set up a 3-week school in Tampa, Florida, to develop the baseball skills of returning veterans – both aspiring ballplayers and those with some organized baseball experience. Men paid for their own transportation to the school as well as room and board, but the instruction by fellow major leaguers was free for the returning veterans. It was seen as a time to reflect on both the future and the past and gave the players a sense of “normal life” again.

Feller spoke about his military service some years later in a segment on of ESPN’s Major League Baseball Magazine.  Feller said “I’m very proud of my war record, just like my baseball record. I would never have been able to face anybody and talk about my baseball record if I hadn’t spent time in the service.” Then again in 2005, he got a chance to chat with people online during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. 

 One of the many questions he was asked that day online was whether he had any regrets about serving in the war? “No, I don’t,” Feller replied. “During a war like World War II, when we had all those men lose their lives, sports was very insignificant. I have no regrets. The only win I wanted was to win World War II. This country is what it is today because of our victory in that war”.

Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn

Former pitcher Warren Spahn entered the military service on December 3, 1942 when he reported to Army Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and pitched for the 1850th Service Unit baseball team. He was then sent to Europe in December 1944 with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group’s 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. ” Let me tell you, that was a tough bunch of guys. We had people that were let out of prison to go into the service. So those were the people I went overseas with,” he told the Hearst Press in 1945, “And they were tough and rough  and I had to fit that mold.”

Spahn soon found himself in the middle of one of the most intense conflicts of the European Theatre, the Battle of the Bulge. “We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forest and had to fight our ways out of there. Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep, and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn’t have a bath or shower, or even a change of clothes for weeks.”

In March 1945, the 276th were responsible for maintaining the traffic flow across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the only remaining bridge to span the Rhine. The bridge was under almost constant attack from the Germans who were desperate to stop the flow of Allied forces into Germany. At the same time they were to build a 140-foot Double Bailey bridge nearby.

 On March 16, Spahn was wounded in the foot by bullet shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff. The following day he had just left the Ludendorff when the entire structure collapsed into the river with the loss of more than 30 US Army Corp of Engineer soldiers. The  entire 276th unit received the Distinguished Unit Emblem and for their efforts to keep the bridge operating, while under constant enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Spahn received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a battlefield commission as a second-lieutenant.

After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, First Lieutenant Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group at their base at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In a four game stretch, he allowed only one run and nine hits while striking out 73 batters. “Before the war I didn’t have anything that slightly resembled self-confidence,” Spahn told the Associated Press in August 1946. “Then I was tight as a drum and worrying about every pitch. But now I just throw them up without the slightest mental pressure.”

Looking back on his military experience Spahn said, “After what I went though overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. you get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened areas. The Army taught me something about
challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

It would take almost two decades for Spahn to again dorn a military outfit. But this time it was for a much different reason entirely. He had been asked to be a guest star on the Vic Morrow military show “Combat” as an extra in a scene. So Spahn again put on a military uniform, but this time it was as a German soldier in the television show scene.

I am honored to bring the tale of these 2 great Baseball Hall of Fame inductees’ and ex-soldiers to you on this Memorial Day. I am an ex-United States Army Reservist who stepped on the soil in Kuwait on February 23,1990 as a freshly minted Master Sergeant. Until that day I could not fathom the emotions that would come to a swift head in and around me in a combat situation. With an insurgence of pride and courage both my unit and other advancing troops showed such moxy and bravery during that initial first thrust into this occupied country that makes me still stand  so proud today.

On this Memorial Day 2011, I personally salute every man, woman and civilian who has served for their bravery and courage to defend our rights with honor. For so many of the players of this grand game I love so much to also answer that same call to duty only makes this salute more personal to me. Until I served, I really did not understand the emotional tie that binds those who serve, and now can relate and admire the feelings and the emotions of my father who served bravely in the South Pacific.

Until I put on my uniform I might have been one of those people who had taken my freedoms a bit lightly. But now, after seeing the sacrfices of others, and knowing the true spectacle of battle and its after effects, I stand tall and proud and pray for everyone currently stationed both in harm’s way and in safe harbor for their efforts to preserving those rights for all of us today. I am no longer eligible to serve, but if they ever changed those age limitation or need a call to arms, I would be there in a heartbeat once again.

From Bummer to a Blast in 60 Seconds…Pure Avril

Avril Lavigne definitely picked the right song to start off her Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert appearance, her upbeat and timely “What The Hel*” was the perfect song to start out what would be a unique and escalating Rays post game concert experience.

With stage hands frantically assembling, plugging and barking orders even moments before the Sk8tr Goddess hit the small stage you got the feeling this was going to be a high energy, dance producing moment, then someone or something decided a microphone monkey wrench had to be inserted into the whole sha-bang. During her first number Lavigne’s portable mic was anything but cooperative, and suddenly Lavigne bopped her way off stage.

The crowd was instanly stunned, and taken totally a- back, but immediately you could see frantic stagehands trying to get the mic situation done pronto. In the background you could see the angst growing on Lavigne’s face as she spoke to her handlers and concert personnel trying to figure out “What The Hel*”.

After several minutes of calming energy Lavigne reappeared smiling, enthusiastic the silence in her concert was defeated, she started out by letting out a impromptu, four-letter word Sk8tr sermon to the assembled masses that must have had a few Rays executives gasping. Still, it was the release of built up emotional garbage and hostility that needed to be exorcised for this show to explode and take us with it.

Lavigne then started sans her band in an a Capella rendition of “What The Hel*” that conquered the stress, angst and even submerged any bummer feeling among the Rays turf crowd. It was an amazing arrangement, plus really showed off that the actress, perfume and clothing maven was definitely not a one trick pony, or needed heavy musical background noise to hide any vocal deficiencies. This Gurl could wail with the best of them.

From that moment on this concert went into a non-stop ride of bouncing in place in unison with the punk rock princess, crowd participation sing-a-longs and watching the Trop’s roof bouncing up and down a few times. Suddenly you could see the crowd feed energy to Lavigne and she returned the favor in spades. This concert definitely went from a rocky summit to a thrill ride inducing encore featuring Lavigne’s smash “Complicated” and there was not a seatbelt in sight.

I was excited beforehand to see what Sean Daly the  local St. Petersburg Times music critic announced was the “One of the Best Rays Concert signing to date” Lavigne had us from her Ceremonial first pitch when the petite Lavigne threw to Rays giant ( 6′ 8”) Reliever Adam Russell and delivered a pitch across both our and the plate’s heart. From the neon green strands in her blond tresses to her splattered paint neon green motocross boots, she not only fit the Sk8tr motif to a “T”, she was their anointed punk Queen.

The song “What The Hel*” is still ringing in my ear. Not the band induced sampling, but that dramatic and unexpected solo offering that showed so much more of this singer’s talent, creativity and down right untapped reservoir of angst energy.

Would I turn down a moment watching a prime example of the type of girl guys like me chased when Motocross, Rat Bikes and skateboarding was in its infant stages….She was the bomb-digitty in her black and neon. Would I stand waiting for her to return on stage again…. You bet your life, in a New York minute . Some musical artists you love for things you can’t explain, or do not want to divulge to friends or family. Lavigne is that kind of artist to me. She reminded me of simpler times when song, energy and sticking to your guns with your style was paramount.

In essence, she made me want to be a Skatr boi all over again. But this time with cooler hair. Only bummer of the concert ( besides the obvious) was the fact the Rays stage was too small for a piano so we could see another dimension of Avril unfold in person. “What The Hel*”, I guess life really is a bit “Complicated” after all.

 Avril Lavigne Flickr Photostream




Take Me Out to the Ballgame-Renegade Style


I really love it when Mark Newman, our MLBlogs Professor gives us a ” homework assignment” when most of Major League Baseball has an “off day”. I have used this same JibJab system before to do videos during the season.

So when the Professor asked the community to make up their own MLB-based  collage of personalities, you knew right off the cuff mine had to include the Rays Players Du Jour. I really love doing this kind of creative assembly, and hope to one day have enough skill and creative juices to mesh it into the perfect storm of stapled together videos.

Heck, I was a little disappointed when I first completed this video that I arranged the facial features where Rays ace David Price actually had a bat in his hand. But considering the video out there in YouTube-ville of him rounding the bases and doing cartwheels and somersaults, maybe it was the right decision in the end.  

But there were a few dead on moments in this video. Watch carefully and you will see Ben Zobrist/Zorilla smash into the side walls and land with his body into the stands. Who can forget in 2009 when Zorilla actually came on over to the Renegade’s section and paid an impromptu visit on a foul ball. It was like Deja Vu all over again.

Who in their right mind will forget the the 2010 Christmas card sent by those adorable Starting five of the Tampa Bay Rays by the clubhouse band The Pitch-Outs. I mean the video even included a happy Matt Garza before his trade to Chi-town. Always felt I should have included “Hellboy” (2011 5th starter Jeremy Hellickson) in it, but the Rookie had to earn some stripes first.

Little by little I am gathering more expertise and a bit more flair with my cut, paste and assembly, but we always know it can be better.Had to include my new found Fantasy pick Matt Joyce who is slugging the ball with authority, with confidence, and with increasing distance every night.

Seriously expecting Joyce to either put one in the Rays Tank, or bounce it off the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse roof before the 2011 season is completed. With Joyce presently leading the Majors in batting average (.377) which saw him advance his overall league lead by 27 points.

Cruising behind Joyce right now is a pair of Cardinals, Lance Berkman ( .350) and Matt Holliday (.349). With the Cardinals coming into Tropicana Field from July 1-3, that series could shape up into a showdown for Batting Average bragging rights before the All Star break.  

And if you had to include an outfielder, how could I have omitted the man, the “Legend”, Sam Fuld. Made sure he was the guy holding the glove at the beginning of the video since his catch of a screamer by Juan Pierre of the Chicago White Sox is going to be a discussion point for “best play” throughout the 2011 season. Only thing can could have made that video untouchable, if it resulted in a triple play.

What video featuring the ever unfolding cosmos of Rays rising stars would be complete with out a Longo (Evan Longoria) sighting. Ever since his Gillette video produced about 20 miles South of Tropicana Field at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, YouTube and blogger throughout the word want to debate, relate and investigate the video’s truth, flaws and eventual controversy. Not since that guy in the Channelside District in Tampa, Florida stole his hat has Longo been such a media darling. Maybe that is why he had the AK-47…to protect from another cap theft.

Seriously, I had a blast popping this short video together that embodies even a slight slice of Americana of  our beloved baseball classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame“. Truly loved how Jibjab used so many funny and interesting configurations to pull of a pleasant visual presentation, and the addition of the 2011 Rays Fab Five of  Joyce, Longo, Fuld, Zorilla and last, but not least the heat-seeker Price.

Hope we can do this again some time this season, possibly around the All Star break when we can again all compile our favorite photos, maybe even a few of ourselves and put all of our great talents to work in a unison project. Do not know about you, but I got to hit replay and watch this video again….and again…..I think I am addicted to it now……Cool Beans!

Joyce is Enjoying the View at the Summit of the MLB Mountain

You knew the moment you first heard the distinctive sound of the ball of his bat Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce had ” it” within him. You always suspected that the burning fires ran deep and that his true passion for this game ran white hot. Suddenly Fantasy gurus around the Major Leagues are starting to chatter about his name, but we always knew he just needed reps in the box to prove he is no platoon player.

And I do not mean that as a disrespectful phrase, but before his recent outburst square onto the MLB radar, some started to label him as a ” specialist”, possibly downgrading his skill set in the process. But we know that is not what got Joyce red hot in the last few months, it more an extended amount of playing time by his Rays Skipper Joe Maddon that finally showed everyone outside of the Rays Republic that Joyce can smash a left-hander as well as a rightie any day of the week.

Amazing that coming into this off day for the Rays, Joyce is leading the Major Leagues in batting average (.367) a full 18 points above the second player, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday (.349). Even more impressive is the fact Joyce has now led the American League in hitting for over 10 days.

 TEN Days. Think about that for a moment. Here is a guy who some had destined as a platoon positional player back in the Spring, but is having the ball come to the plate looking like a neon softball and he is hitting it all over the place. 10 days shows that a pattern is beginning to develop. Sure Joyce possibly can not keep this torrid pace up, but it suffices to say with a .429 average while hitting safely in 22 of his last 25 games, Joyce could pitch his tent in Rightfield.

Joyce has always had a great knack of destroying right-handed hurlers and is currently leads the Majors with a .397 average against righties. To put Joyce’s achievement into a further enlightened prospective, Joyce’s current 1.071 OPS ranks 3rd overall within Major League Baseball, and only Cardinals surprise Lance Berkman (1.113 OPS) and Toronto’s Jose Bautista boast a higher OPS at this moment.

Sure people are going to point immediately towards Joyce’s dismal .190 average against Southpaws, but with time, that stat also will see a nice rise as he gets comfortable and having a veteran leftie-killer like Johnny Damon ( .286 average) next to you on the bench, sooner or later something is going to rub off and click within Joyce’s left-on-left battles.

When you are riding a 5-game hitting streak where you are slugging the ball at a current .471 average and have been helping with run production with a .407 average with Runners In Scoring Position, you might a few extra hacks against the lefties in the AL. But this is the potential we have been waiting patiently to surface in Joyce for the past two seasons.

There have been glimpses of the magic, but like a sparkler, it faded with time. For some reason this time feels a bit different. His hitting chart shows a little more of a spread pattern, and the sound of the ball off his bat just sounds different. Possibly the “softball” analogy might be happening to Joyce right now, and he will take it and plaster a few all around the ballpark.

This is the latest in a MLB Season that a Rays has held that coveted top spot in the American League in hitting. A few years ago former Rays SS Jason Bartlett had his time trying to maintain a bit of consistency, but finally fell by the wayside.

Joyce could also see a bit of a slide, but already he is on pace for a career high batting average, a new high in MLB Home Runs and RBI, plus a chance to shatter the 92-game mark he posted in Detroit back in 2008.

Right now the Tampa-born Joyce is enjoying his new found fame, soaking up everything he can learn from Damon, and basking in the cheers as he heads out nightly in Rightfield. It’s always great to see a guy hit is potential, even better to see him blast past it and explode on the MLB scene with gusto.

Gnome-Gate Sickens Me to the Core

Did it really slip beyond our naive grasp of the obvious that some people just do not like to play fair in any thing, especially for FREE things. That there is a small segment of our population, no matter where they live whose souls have darkened to eternally have that evil,mean and nasty streak forever coursing through their veins.

Were you really surprised that adults formed stakeout patrols and possibly dressed in full camo regalia including face paint just to be the first to selfishly hoist a FREE giveaway skyward before it’s contest even began? Sure some of the hidden items did have vouchers, signatures and even chances for tickets attached to them, but to hoard a bunch and stuff them into your rotting 1965 Pinto? Really?

All for the chance to embrace, caress and ultimately commandeer one of 1,400 Bernie Brewer lawn ornaments put put earlier this morning throughout this baseball crazy Wisconsin region. There has to be more of a realistic reason for the covert chaos. Could it really have been so insane that some conjured us such greed of wanting their own “Bernie” before it was time.

Does it make any real sane reasoning to go out in the darkness, whisk off a defenseless garden gnome to have and to hold forever, possibly adorned with Ryan Braun’s signature. Maybe those religious group were wrong. Seems like a small fraction of a rapture happen this morning as 1,400 “Bernie’s” seem to vanish before the dawn.

And this same scenario can play out anywhere in this country today, not just the city of “Laverne and Shirley” fame. This kind of callous pre-dawn commando raid mentality gives a permanent black eye to other MLB teams watching in the distance wanting to see success so they could implement such cunning events in their cities. But that kind of promotion can pretty much be squashed thanks to a small crusade of conniving culprits.

Thank goodness the MLB All Star game Mickey Mouse statues that graced the SoCal region were almost impossible to pilfer thanks to their huge size and weight, or they might have adorned a few backyard pools,fountains or even boardroom themselves before Major League Baseball party in Anaheim, California last season. But Bernie was easier to hide.

Stuck in a car trunks, hidden in large boxes or garbage bag and maybe even hidden within the confines of a refuse container for future apprehension after the chaos subsided. “Gnome-gate” as it has been billed is in full bloom in all it’s rage and disturbing pathos.

Hopefully some took Bernie home to their family with little ones hugging Bernie “Good Morning” before they headed off to school. I know some ended up in the right palms, with the honest of intentions, but other have come with a price on their heads.

Ebay is awash with Bernie, some commanding upwards of $ 200 already where they can be purchased in the Brewers’ Team Store for $ 48. No certificate of authenticity was wrapped on Bernie’s body, no reason to think a $48 dollar model is now being portrayed as stolen Brewers’ booty.

You want to blame the fact that cheese is considered an essential food group in Milwaukee or possibly use illogical thoughts like blaming the waifing smell of fermenting beer swallowing up the masses. For some reason I do not want to fathom the honest truth here that some among us simply get a kick out of skirting the lines of honestly and integrity like a ball down the foul lines.

Humanity could have showed its competitive and honest self today, but tri-faced myriad of greed,contempt and fraud reared its ugly head from a long night’s nap. I truly hope no children were witness to adults doing bad things this morning. That somehow humanity at least sheltered her next generation who still believe in dreams, wishes and being honest. I believe in my soul most got their “Bernies” in the right frame of time (like the guy in the photo), and did not skirt their moral codes condemning them to be a stone cold as the statues themselves this a.m.

Saddens me a bit that it had to go down like this. That a darkened Lincoln Park within the community of Milwaukee was outrageously ravaged and scorched by a swarm of human locust hellbent on being the first to embrace the gnome figurine themselves.

Shame on you early morning dishonest thieves, shame on you people who have accosted Sir Bernie and are holding him for a financial payday. I got to go take a shower to wash off this filth that has gathered on me as I wrote this post. Maybe I will drive downtown, buy a homeless guy a burger or two, do something nice in reverse karma to the madness thrust on poor Milwaukee and all the “Bernie’s” today. Maybe I will do it for the rest of the week…… WWBD? (What Would Bernie Do)

Photos Are More Than Just Aiming the Camera

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph” -Matt Hardy

It has only been a handful of years since I again began to systematically fall head over heels in love again with the complex configuration of trying to catch eye-popping game day images of players, concerts and even every day life that I could morph from a stylish snapshot into an impressive photograph.

I still remember the first time I held a real camera, a 35mm back in Junior High and taking photos all around the campus trying to develop a image that would evolve while it was developing in the classroom’s dark room into poetic black and white celluloid magic.

To this day I still try with every single snap of the camera lens to produce that elusive significant photo, possibly of the missed tag, a blurred image of a Home Run ball as it explodes off the bat, or even the insane catch in the outfield in all its glory. Some days I do catch lightning within the lens, but I am still honing my craft little by little and even with my last breathe, I want to find more beauty within the viewfinder.

Maybe it is the perfectionist in me, but I am always hungry for more. Always trying to catch that one photo that will make someone bewildered that I could capture a moment with clarity and emotion. Some might say I am seeking the “Holy Grail” of sports moments, the deciding factor of a game, an inning or the precise moment a player takes his game to that next level.

But the real beauty of taking photos is that sometimes you get the raw emotion of the moment, the simple actions of a player’s personality and character frozen within the lines of your 8×10. From the comedic, to the frustration to the sheer emotional outburst as a walk-off leaves the stadium, those are the moments I seek.

Hundreds and thousands of these unique moments click by without a hint of notice or celebratory fan fare within the mind boggling parade of live action within the game. Where do you point? Do you try and catch the spin of the ball as it leaves the pitchers’ hand? Do you lie in wait for a runner to make the break for a steal? Or do you get everything in order hoping for a 6-4-3 double play and catch a magical moment as the pivot is made?

Sometimes just trying to catch that lightning in the bottle can be more mind numbing than the game itself. More than once I have remained focused in, fully concentrated on catching that historic moment and blinked and it was beyond me. But that is the beauty of photography and the images of the game, lightning can strike several times, sometimes simultaneously on consecutive plays and you have to ready for it.

Some times I take 300+ photos during the course of a game and find myself constantly erasing or tightening up shots for analysis later. During a Rays post game concert shoot I can discharge my camera battery in only 3 songs, then it is off to Rightfield Street to begin editing.

Hundreds of images begin to dance through my eyes as I search for that one diamond within the hundreds of sparkling cubic zircona gems. When that one photo enters your retina, produces a sparkle that emulates a million of the Sun’s rays, that makes it all worth it. I am still trying to find that photo that pushes me beyond and through that barrier of simplistic imagery.

Then I awaken out of my stupor and remember a quote by American photographer Imogen Cunningham : “Which one of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

Camera…..check, Telephoto lens…check…..Imagination…double check. Now it’s time to find the “Grail”.

InterLeague is Good For the Fan’s Soul Joe

It is sometimes pretty rare for me to not go totally along with something Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon says. Usually I am not above drinking the team’s Kool Aid at times, particularly when it comes to some of their personnel moves.

But I have to take exception with one of Maddon’s recent vocal oratories. I am all for the InterLeague format. Been on their bandwagon since the First Pitch, and will be an adamant supporter of it to its last swing. Even though I can side with some of Maddon’s concerns, as a fan, InterLeague gives me a chance to see players and teams I would have to travel great distances to see in-person.

Sure it plays a bit of havoc on the Ray’s already crowded 162-game schedule, but it has advantages that sometimes miss the mindset of the 30 dugout leaders of Major League Baseball. We all know without question Maddon’s admiration and affection for a possible future balanced schedule. But it might not happen in MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s tenure.

Where else can a Manager have a chance to play devil’s advocate with no pressure from the playoffs than at this juncture in mid-May and June. Suddenly they can insert, delete or even tinker without the worry of a 3, 5 or 7-game series hinging on their line-up card. Plus it gives the fans and added impact via opinions, blogs and even Twitter to voice their own preferences towards DH or non-DH starters in games.

The main appeal of InterLeague to me is still the match-ups that constantly revolve to give our American League team a chance to see budding superstars, aging stars and some part-time focus on things outside our AL-realm of thinking. The National League plays a different game at times than the power conscious AL.

For that reason alone it brings back into play the skill set and imagination of all 30 MLB Managers, their rosters potential, and also bring to light some of the obvious flaws we see even in a championship squad. The NL frame of mind is firmly planted into moving runners into scoring position and systematically ( hopefully) bringing the home in before the third out.

AL seems to play more wing and a prayer long ball with the potential of each pitch possibly bringing a victory. Put the two systems together and you get a massive human Chess match that can be dominated in a nano second by the more versatile club. But that is not the InterLeague’s biggest drawing point to me.

I remember seeing Barry Bonds in the Trop a few years ago when the San Francisco Giants were not “World beaters”. It brought a figure who was larger to life into the cool confines of the Trop when if not for InterLeague, Rays fans would have had to travel to the city by the bay, or go to an Arizona Spring game to see Bonds.

Take this season’s match-ups of the 2010 surprising Cincinnati Reds and their budding superstar 1B Joey Votto and the return of former Rays fav Jonny Gomes since his exit from the Rays Republic. This match-up pushed together two equally matched teams on the hill with offenses that strive to score and produce at will at times. But in the Rays disadvantage is this is a home series where the team has been…well dreadful.

Or maybe you have the dates that the St. Louise Cardinals, who trained in these parts for over 25 years come back to the Trop and bring former Rays RP Trever Miller and some guy named Pujols. Tell me Sir Albert will not bring the Rays fans in droves to see a star that is still shining bright and hope to see a long ball deposited into the seats of the Trop. InterLeague makes these kind of meeting possibly outside the realm of the World Series. But maybe it was the quote in an article by the St. Petersburg Times where Maddon voiced his displeasure for this wild yearly adventure that evoked the most emotion from me.

Maddon was quoted in that article stating: ” I Think in the beginning it was an idea that fans kind of got into and it was kind of interesting. I don’t know that it’s interesting any more.”

Sorry to give you the news Joe, but it is relevant to us in the Rays Republic. We love seeing guys like Pujols, Votto and old friends like Gomes and Miller strut into the Trop and play creative baseball with our Rays. The most interesting thing here is that I finally found something to disagree with you on. That doesn’t happen with regularity, just like the InterLeague season.


(Sitting at the Rays Watch Party at Courtside Grille as I submit this blog……Where are you?)

We Will Miss You Macho (Baseball) Man

He was known World-wide for his flamboyant neon-colored clothing and cowboy hats. His trademark sunglasses and speech patterns that made him seem more constipated than ferocious, but that was the “business side” of Randy “Macho Man” Savage that most of the public got to see in and around his second home, the wrestling ring.

When I heard on the radio today that Savage had been involved in a 1-car accident and had been pronounced deceased at a local hospital, immediately I went back to a day almost 30 years ago when I met Savage for the first time.

I had grown up hanging around and working with some of the Florida wrestling hierarchy’s kids like Gordon Solie’s son and had attended Dixie Hollins with Bruce Woyan who would become Buzz Sawyer. It was Woyan who took me backstage one night and I got to meet Macho Man sans the bravado and brightly colored clothing.

Even back in the 80’s I always seemed to be sporting a baseball cap upon my head. During this day it was a cap which had the St. Petersburg Cardinals logo and Savage immediately began to smile and began to tell me about his former baseball career. I could see a slight twinkle in his eye remembering his minor leagues days while I was stuck in the classrooms at Dixie during the double shifts of school.

But I was entranced with his story and could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice. Sometimes you just wonder what could have been if……. It was a long stretch of time between our meetings when I saw him again at a Rays game wearing all black including a black head scarf but with the trademark facial hair and bold bravado.

We had both aged kind of gracefully, but you could tell wrestling took its toll on Savage over the years. I told a person sitting next to him a bit about Savage’s minor league career and he gave me a small grin. Funny, I had seen him in the ring for what seemed like hundreds of times either in person or on television, and my thoughts always came back to if I heckled him as a St. Pete Cardinals fans in the early 70’s.

If I had not worn that Cardinals cap, I possibly would have never known that Savage, who at that moment made a living throwing himself off turnbuckles towards concrete floors could hit the round ball. I would never have found out that this mega-star wrestler was once a 2-time All State baseball player back in Ohio who held his alma mater’s baseball record after sporting a .524 batting average.

Way before the lovely Miss Elizabeth, his space-age sunglasses and even snapping into a Slim Jim, Savage was known simply as Randy Poffo, who was a young Outfielder/Catcher First Baseman that wandered around the bus circuit leagues with teams like the Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.

Who besides his childhood friends and family would have been able to imagine his hidden passion for the little white roundball. Just goes to show you that an athlete is an athlete no matter the sport.

Even though Savage/Poffo never got above the Class A level in the sport, he did spend time in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orangeburg South Carolina. In his 4 years in the minors, Savage hit 16 Home Runs and also managed 16 triples. Goes to show you he had a little abundance of power to go along with a good base running speed.

His best minor league stop might have been his last with the Tampa Tarpons (class A/ Reds) during the 1974 season. With the Tarpons he appeared in 113 games stepping to the plate 521 times and sported a .622 OPS along with 66 RBIs and 19 doubles. He once played with former Cardinal OF Tito Landrum on the 1973 Orangeburg Cardinals Western Carolina League squad.

Always get to me when someone I met, even for a brief moment is taken from us. It is also at moments like this that you find out small hidden gems about a person you wish the World had known all along.

Savage had a passion for the game of baseball, I can easily envision Savage standing in line at the pearly gates possibly bending the ear of recently parted Twins great Harmon Killebrew speaking enthusiastically about the game. Possibly Savage can again relive some of his baseball glory. Just remember Macho Man, there is no rushing the mound in Heaven. Godspeed Randy Mario Poffo.

J P Howell’s Return Warrants Rays Roster Move

With the proverbial clock ticking louder and louder, it is only a matter of hours before the Tampa Bay Rays have to make an executive decision on who might be demoted back to the minors to make a roster space for Southpaw reliever J P Howell to again don a Rays uniform( # 74) in the  Rays Bullpen. Believe me, there are plenty of viable candidates for a one-way ticket to Triple-A again.

 Surely the first thoughts have to go towards the recent 2 relief pitching additions this month, and that by itself should certainly have the Rays relievers firmly in the harsh spotlight. But could the Rays staff possibly throw in a unforeseen breaking ball and make a move no one seriously saw coming? It would not be unprecedented as this Rays management sometimes likes to ruffle a few feathers with unconventional thought processes and decision as opposed to doing the “ normal” route for such transactions.

Most Rays Republic fingers will automatically be pointed towards young relievers Brandon Gomes and Rob Delaney as instant “shoo-ins” to possibly be heading back to the Triple-A Durham Bulls since both have minor league options still at the Rays disposal. Both Delaney and Gomes have also done a few things on the mound recently to gather more and more momentum towards one of the pair getting demoted.

Some have hinted that SS Reid Brignac or possibly 1B/DH Dan Johnson could be in need of a “vacation” to Durham to find their stroke again. It makes sense,but with Inter-League beginning in less than 24 hours against our inter-state nemesis from South Florida, any hitters getting a ticket to Triple-A is as valid as a night of FREE beer at your local wings & things joint…Not going to happen, even with the Mayan’s doomsday prediction.

Delaney in particular might be the most recent Rays Bullpen member in Maddon’s wine cellar doghouse after coming on this past Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles and not recording a single out in his appearance. Sure he walked 3 Orioles, including 1 Intentionally, which has not been done since former Rays RP Jason Isringhausen performed his own meltdown version in the infamous Cleveland Indian 11-straight runs debacle back on May 25, 2009 (I still blame the RED TB caps).

Somehow it seems like a long time since Delaney’s May 8th promotion to the big leagues and his perfect inning of relief work during his 2011 debut in Baltimore. Something seems to have  happened to Delaney since his move up to the Rays. Suddenly a guy who was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 12 appearances at Triple-A is seeing his MLB ERA skyrocket to 13.50 in just 3 MLB game appearances.

I can Definitely can forecast a red circle on Maddon’s sheet in respect to Delaney name possibly sending him down for more Bullpen seasoning in the minors again.

 Gomes also left a few Rays open wounds recently fresh on the frontal lobe of Maddon after surrendering 2 earned runs in the top of the 9th inning to the New York Yankees in the Rays final homestand defeat. It was a career high earned run implosion for Gomes.

Heck in 8 innings of Bullpen work so far with the big club, Gomes has given up 3 earned runs in his 7 game appearances. Not the kind of stellar performances that make you invisible at a moment like this.

In Gomes favor is his recent Saturday night romp on the hill where he struck out the side in order, but did give up a double to Orioles 1B Derrick Lee, his first extra base hit surrendered in his short MLB career in the 8th inning.

Gomes has come a long way since his MLB debut back on May 4th against the Toronto Blue Jays and left a massive impression on Maddon when Gomes tossed 2 innings of relief for Rays starter Wade Davis. With a 3.38 ERA in 7 games, seems Gomes might not be the first choice for demotion. Still things can change in a New York minute when you are a relief pitcher. One bad outing can get you sent out and down before you ever get your uniform off.

Weighing the pros and cons of each guy carefully it seems that Delaney might be the guy with the short straw at this moment.

 We still have a contest to play tonight, and an implosion by either Gomes or Delaney could seal their own fates in either direction the moment Maddon heads to the mound to take the ball from either pitcher. I throughly expect to see both possibly take the hill tonight in a last ditch relief effort for Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to solidify their choice and make it stick before boarding the charter flight back to FL.

 Even though I truly feel Brignac might need some time to “ find his bat” again, the cards are severely stacked towards a reliever getting a ticket to Triple-A tonight. My gut feeling is that Delaney is the guy in the ledge right now, but Maddon could be playing us all and possibly send down Left-handed reliever Cesar Ramos  with Howell eager and ready to go……Still, someone has to go tonight and the last two guys promoted seem to be the logical choices….Right?