June 2011

Life is Fitting Gomes Like a Glove

Got to be honest here, was not sure how the start of this week was going to shake out for me. It was a strange and unusual experience for me to wander past the Tampa Bay Rays Home Clubhouse and summons someone from within the Visitor’s Clubhouse, especially at 11 am. The guy I wanted to see was already working out and visiting with Rays staffers he had befriended in his years with the team.

I was on a personal fact-finding moral imperative type mission. Well, I did have to pull a string or two with someone outside the Rays media department, but it was for a really good cause. Besides a few Spring Training games and spotting him in off-the-field locales before his team moved their Spring home to Arizona, I had missed chatting with this player.

I used to make a special effort to walk down to the dugout rail before games and chat with this guy whenever possible, heck I am even writing this blog wearing his Rays batting gloves just for effect. Monday was the first time I would get an honest chance to interact with my favorite all-time Rays player.

I was hoping to catch up a bit on his life since he removed his last Rays blue jersey. Wondered to myself if he still had that specially made Rays robe, or still has a savoring palate for Patron Tequila or victory cigars. Wondered if he still has his home in the Jungle Prada section of St. Petersburg, or if he had finally found what he was always running full speed towards in life.

I made sure to bring a small finely chilled token of my past beverage alliance knowing that this guy always got a kick out of consuming mass quantities of energy drinks. When I was with Pepsi, I used to bring cases of energy drinks to this Tasmanian Devil whirling dervish. Fitting that the drink he really responded to most was the old Mountain Dew AMP Superman, but what else would satisfy a guy who always seemed as animated as a cartoon character.

I daydreamed back for a moment to his Rays image as a bit of a free spirit on adrenaline that always was there to poured beer or Patron for his teammates and Rays Manager Joe Maddon during the Rays 2008 post season. Remembering again very vividly a guy who sported the Rays-hawk with ceremonial pride, shaving off his usual curly locks.

Was not sure if I was about to meet the Seminole Hard Rock late night patron that was the life of the party. Instead I was greeted with a firm handshake of a mature Jonny Gomes. His world had changed dramatically since Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.

He had left the team he always dreamed of playing his entire career with, and ventured into a entirely new color scheme. Gone were the youthful aspirations of running into a WWE ring, offset by the golden wedding ring on his finger.

He has finally found her, and she grounded him. He had become a father to an adorable daughter, and was anxious for her to grow up and achieve great things. His past animated character still shined through, but his excitement now was filled with career security and sheer adulation for his little one

I stood there and listened for a bit and gained a huge new respect and admiration for the transformed Gomes. I got a great new energy vibe from Jonny and wanted only success on and off the field for him. I did not want to leave, wanted to stay there and hear more and more about Cincinnati, 5-way Chili and the ever expanding Gomes galaxy.

But I unfortunately had to get back to my own daily routine, but made sure to return the firm and hearty handshake to the guy who found his answers away from the confines of the Trop. As I began to leave I turned and told him I was proud of his success both in life and on the field. Reminded him that he would only hear cheers where Carl Crawford heard jeers in his return to his “first home”.and wished him a great series.

Gomes ended going 3-10 against his old squad, starting the series by launching a vintage Gomes shot to Leftfield off of Jeremy Hellickson on Monday night. He was also on base when Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan connected off of James Shields to win the get-away Wednesday afternoon contest.

As I sat there and watched as Gomes rounded Third Base, it reminded me of just how far he has come in less than 3 M L B seasons. From a instable career foundation with the Rays to a solid base with the Reds. Going from late night reveler to late night bottle butler. From a lady’s man to a devoted husband. All changes that fit him perfectly….like an old Batting Glove.

Follow the Bouncing Ball….Sunday’s Photo Collage

It was just one of those odd days around Major League Baseball. And the muddled complexion of the white sphere made by Rawlings played a major role in the outcomes, and suspense surrounding so many games today. The top photo shows Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury barreling in for a ball hit up the middle in PNC Park against the Pirates, but the ball had a mind of its own.

As is my new Sunday routine, let’s take a gander at some of the photos and mishaps pertaining to that always elusive white sphere. Let’s start with the “hide-and-go-deep” ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays slugger Evan Longoria that was deemed a double. Longo finally got to complete his round tripper trot after the Umpires conferred in the dugout tunnel and further reviewed and reversed their initial decision.

Then you got the ball that tried to initiate gravity top an extreme and would not stay up long enough for Cincinnati Red starter Homer Bailey to catch it as it tumbled to the grass infield thus awarding an infield single to Orioles OF Adam Jones in the 4th inning. The Orioles ended up pushing across 4 runs in that inning with this dying quail hit by Jone leading off the highly productive inning.

We all remember the first time a Little League Coach put a ball in the air towards us and we either closed our eyes or flopped after the ball like we had been shot the moment it hit our gloves. Sometimes those same moments happen at the M L B level, but tens of thousands of fans in attendance, or at home get to witness the malfunction of ball into glove technique taught to each of us so long ago.

Take Washington Nationals CF Roger Bernadina’s attempt at trying to snag a hard hit double by Chicago White Sox CF Carlos Quentin that tried to make an exit stage right in mid-flight. Over playing a ball hit hard, in the bright mid-day Sun is not abnormal at all, but not getting at least a tip of your leather on it….That makes the Nats possibly more eager to entertain a trade with the Rays for CF B J Upton.

But if you can’t get to a well hit fly ball, or maybe make the error of taking a wrong route to the ball is bad enough, what harm is providing a few moments of over-animated movements for the nightly goof/highlight reels. I mean we all saw the red-tipped wings sprout from the baseball’s hide and propel that ball away from Morgan’s glove.

That is the only summation I can come up with involving the huge error in judgment made by Milwaukee Brewers CF Nyer Morgan on a blast off the bat of Minnesota Twins infielder Danny Valencia. As you might imagine, Valencia ended up with a triple to lead off the second inning. That fielding f aux pa by Morgan set up the struggling Twins with a 1-0 lead that escalated to the Twins stamping their 18th road win of the season (18-28), 4 victories better than their home mark (14-16).

Still, balls fall to the ground every day/night around the M L B, it is a given, but some of these Sunday just somehow seemed to have minds of their own. On Sunday some balls needed the human eyes to discover their illusions were not founded and reversals in calls were made. Others seemed to spark offensive powers and promote runs, scoring chances and eventual victories. Then others just seemed to come in pairs.

Remember the top photo of Ellsbury having a devil of a time trying to corral a sharply hit ball against the Pirates. Well, Ellsbury got a doubler dose of white ball fever as another one handcuffed him totally in the bottom of the fifth inning when Pirates SS Ronnie Cedeno hit his own dying quail sacrifice fly to Ellsbury to tie the game up at 1-all.

I remember as a kid one of my Coaches telling me that even as the ball is round, it has a mind and flight pattern all its own. It doesn’t go oblong in flight after being crushed, or sprout wings and fly over you head, but tell that to these M L B players today. Until next Sunday, I am out of here like Long’s 2-run shot against the Houston Astros…without further review.

Because the Sky is Blue and the Sun is Orange

Gosh I am so jealous of the Florida Gator baseball team right now. This program has come from the swampy bottom muck to the clouds in their 96 season history. Ironically, the Gators have been to the College World Series 7 times, all after I left the shadows and clay of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium. A former teammate of mine once bragged, “The sky is blue and the Sun orange because God is a Gator fan”.  Starting to believe that right now.

What is even more amazing is the Gators had to defeat their Southeastern Conference nemesis Vanderbilt (Sorry David Price) to possibly get another shot at the championship in a best-of-3 shootout with either fellow SEC foe South Carolina, or Virginia. 12 SEC titles do not mean a thing at this point as the Gators and either the Gamecocks or Cavaliers will start with an even keel going into the finals.

Doesn’t seem like 25 years ago I pulled up my stirrups and buttoned my uniform up for Coach Joe Arnold. Did you know that before the modern era of Gator baseball, Coaches worked with the squad on a part-time basis, usually holding other coaching spots in the Gator’s other athletic teams.

I heard early Gator baseball legend tales about former Gator baseball player and eventual Coach Lance Richbourg who went on to play for the Boston Braves (and others)

Richbourg only played on the Gator’s baseball squad for one season, in 1919, but in between his stints in Major League Baseball always seemed to find a way back to the green grass of Gainesville, Florida. Richbourg compiled an outstanding 39-21 overall record in his 3 seasons as the Head Gator (1922, 1923 and 1926).

Since that time M L B well known names like San Diego Padres SS/2B David Eckstein, Cleveland Indians OF/1B Matt LaPorta, Kansas City Royals 1B Ryan Shealy and Texas Ranger SP/RP Darren O’Day. Former OF Brad Wilkinson, former Rays 3B Herbert Perry and countless others have also had the honor of donning the blue and orange.

There have also been some highly recognizable past names associated with the blue and orange like SP John Burke who was the first ever draft choice of the expansion Colorado Rockies. Or maybe you have heard about former Gator Johnny Burnett, who on July 10, 1932 against the Philadelphia Athletics put up some astronomical slugging numbers as he pounded out 9 hits in an 18-inning contest.

One Gator has even won the coveted American League MVP trophy while also becoming a 2-time Home Run and RBI crown winner while with the Cleveland Indians. Al Rosen might just go down in history as the premier Bull Gator. That is until possibly this 2011 crew make their M L B marks.

But it is this 2011 Gator team that deserves the spotlight right now. A squad that has toiled, sweat and scraped their way to within 3 games of that elusive National Championship dream. 3 finals games will decide their destiny, their eventual fate, and possibly accumulate a few late night fantasies into reality.

Tonight I will raise a glass (more than once) to the hurlers and sluggers of the Blue and Orange who have graced the NCAA Baseball 4-years straight, but this season are finally seeing the hard work, dedication and sacrifice come to fruition. 3 more vital games that everyone in Gator Nation, including us who played so long ago, will watch with anticipation, excitement and most of all pride.

No matter what the outcome. No matter if there is defeat or exhilaration after those hard fought games within the confines of TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, these Gators have already won…..our hearts.

With Possible M L B Realignment on the Horizon…..Some Renegade Thoughts

There has been more than a few whispers and discussion lately about the possibility of forming a “mega- payroll” division staking the big money payroll of mega competitors’ Boston and New York and maybe infuse them with 3 other high threshold salary ceiling squads to form a prestigious “diamond” division.

Sure putting the high dollar darlings in a central division will make it more difficult for them to realistically step over the carcasses of low payroll squads, or teams that rely on their farm systems instead of the Free Agent market. But that also opens a second concern. Could such a maneuver bring about a reversal of the recent parity within the M L B and again pay homage to the league’s “elite”.

We all know that within the upcoming MLB/MLBPA Labor Pow Wow there will be chatter about expanding the post season, but there will be more heated discussion about a more balanced schedule and a possible realignment of the whole enchilada.

Football fans were enraged and bewildered the N F L decided to conjure up another division situated almost exclusively within the Southeastern region of the country. From the moment this region was considered for realignment, people began to refer to it as the “NASCAR Division“.

Some might think with my high Southern posturing I might take offense to this connotation, but I really do not have a problem with it at all. Even though that statement was further stereotyping this region, NASCAR is a symbol of the South.

So it was a bit of a backhanded compliment to Southerner’s like myself. And, yes, I have been known to attend the Daytona or even Talladega NASCAR races, and I do glance at the television sometimes on Sunday to glance at the boys going around with constant left turns.

The formation of this Southeastern division helped the NFL get closer to a level of league-wide parity, which baseball will need to comprehend and address if it expects every M L B team to flourish and grow fiscally as well as physically. This action by another of America’s premier sports might be the successful course of action if MLB brass do not want to see a revolving door of top money payroll teams sprinting towards the Playoffs finish line every October in the near future.

Sure there have been odd twist of fate in the last few years, including the match-up of the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants making it to the World Series after eliminating 2 of those payroll bastions (Philly/NY) . The usual M L B pattern has been that spent dollars have bought more Championships instead of heart, homegrown talent and determination.

Maybe a fourth division in the American or National League would seem to throw the whole globe off its axis and we go wobbling through our orbits tumbling like a deflated ball among the Milk Way. I think we have already started that dizzying journey and have not recognized it yet.

So what did I have in mind to maybe change this?

First off, I would like to introduce the idea of taking one team from every division in both the AL and NL, excluding the AL West, which is already lopsided with 4 teams. You might ask why I would want to dissect a team from each division? To be completely honest, it would then make most of the other divisions a four-team division, with the NL Central lowered to five teams.

You had to already gandered that I would like the Tampa Bay Rays to be included in this new division, and with this new collection in the AL, we hold on tightly to the Designated Hitter rule. The Rays are prefect for this new division because the new division will be rooted in the SE, and only the new abode to open in 2012 in Miami,Florida is further South than St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Rays are already well versed in the ways and means of being a small market team, this division’s formulation can effectively give them the payroll flexibility of knowing that they will not have to adjust and implode their own cash box every year to keep up with the Epstein’s and Cashman’s upgrades via the money pot to survive.

The second team in this division would come out of the National League East and could instantly establish a great Southern rivalry like the annual Florida-Georgia Football game in Jacksonville. I would enjoy seeing the famous Atlanta Brave’s Tomahawk Chop going on right next to the deafening sound of the Rays Republic’s Cowbells.

This expected rivalry could replace some of the expected lost revenues of Boston or New York based on previous sell out crowds during the last time these 2 teams faced off in InterLeague at Tropicana Field. Flights are affordable between the 2 cities, and could muster up a second caravan of road trips for Rays fans to see away games. The Braveswould be the perfect new nemesis of the Rays.

You might question why I did not take the Florida (Miami) Marlins place them in this division instead of Atlanta. I consider the Fish to be perfect InterLeague foes for the Rays, and did not want to split up a AL and NL presence in the state of Florida. I think this state is better for a presence in both the A L and N L , and want to preserve that Citrus Series relationship as it is right now.

Third squad to be added would come out of the AL Central. I did not have to take long to think about this because it came to me the moment I looked at the division. The Kansas City Royals would be my choice based on the simple fact they are a small market squad and would benefit extremely by being in the same division as the Rays.

The relationship between these two AL teams is already formed, and the cities are close enough within the geographical region of the Southern part of the country to make same day flights and televised games a viable options for both teams.

Fourth team to be added would come out of the NL Central division and take their division down to four teams. I thought long and hard as to if I wanted to realign the entire MLB a bit, or just select this one team and end the debate fast and furious on which Texas teams would get an invite to the NASCAR division.

I thought the team that would get the most out of the move would be the Houston Astros. Not only would they be able to convert to the D H system easily, they have the talent in-house already to pop a great DH in the line-up as early as 2012.

I think that the teams on this division “wish list” have great stadiums with a awesome home team presence, and would be totally conducive to building a rivalry and expanding their team concepts without minimal changes.

Realignment is on the horizon. It will be talked, debated, then instituted. This is just my idea of what could effectively comprise a movement towards giving the high dollar and low budget teams a breather and a chance to compete yearly in the post season.

I like the concept and potential of this NASCAR division. It will have great speed, solid defense and a ton of raw young talent circulating throughout the years. Several of the teams that would comprise this division have been hotbeds of minor league talent. That new talent would bring excitement along with value to these teams.

It is a division I not only would pay money to see at Tropicana Field, but would definitely travel to other cities to see play against our Rays. In turn, that would help these small market teams keep their coffers filled to pay their young players to stay with their teams past their arbitration years….It is a “win-win” proposition.

Pfister Hotel…..Brewers Haunted Home Field Advantage?

It is said that the Pfister Hotel is one of the last “Grand Dame” hotels of its kind in this region of the country. A opulent palace of gold-leaf and legend that makes it one of the most coveted beds in Milwaukee, Wisconsin both for its charm and elegance as for it’s ghost sightings in the lobby or balcony regions..

This motel mecca is as famous for its grandeur decor and service as it is for its…former residents who sometimes still make late night visits to check up on the staff and guests. But make no mistake, even Major League Baseball and NBA guests have roamed the Pfister’s hall late into the night, sometimes getting their own chances to experience things that go “ bump in the night”.

This is the kind of “ home field advantage” you can not put a price on…..and hopefully can live through the night to spin more tales of chains, manifestations and odd happenings after the lights go out. Who you gonna call……Sam Fuld? Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the world with their rituals and behaviors that border on psychotic.

But mix in a little paranormal or unexplained and you got a chance for some reason psychological mischief to be played within the mind. Already there have been legions of players from National League teams who sense or even experienced their own “Pfister Phenomenon”, even checking out of the hotel and refusing to stay in the structure.

Then again, the hotel is over 100 years old, which can bring about an abundance of creaks and settling noises. Toss in the paranormal theory that the hotels recent renovation can stir up residual and intelligent entities, and you get a prime and fertile paranormal environment for the Rays visit. There is even one Los Angeles Dodger who refuses to sleep in the hotel without a bat in the bed with him.

Some Florida Marlins players have been known to ask to share room when the team makes their treks to play a Brewers series. More than one M L B player in the past has felt that these ornate and narrow halls seem to close in on you, making the hotel feel even creepy in the sunlight. I am expecting to hear a few late night ghost stories when the Rays return home from this adventure.

Maybe it is a bit of karma for the Rays to hit a traveler’s haunted oasis that could possibly produce as many sleepless nights as their own “home haunted hotel”, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Florida.

All you have to do is troll the pages of the book “Haunted Baseball” to hear tales from Rays and visiting players as to the Vinoy’s past life guest visits. Who knows, maybe a few of the Vinoy spirits also took the charter flight up to Milwaukee….

Maybe a late night dinner return by a few of the Rays personnel might feats their eyes on the figure of Charles Pfister, the hotel’s founder who is said to sometimes oversee his palace from the grand staircase at night.

Another common binder that brings the aspect paranormal activities into existence is the fact the original 8-story hotel was constructed of limestone and is within blocks of a large body of water (Lake Michigan) which are both said to be conducive to bringing increased activity from visitors the “other side”. I truly envy the Rays players right now. I would give my non-throwing arm for a visit to a place like this.

Then again, maybe some of the Rays should heed the 2008 experiences of Minnesota Twins OF Carlos Gomez, who first heard voices. Then his iPod mysteriously began going nuts after he stepped out of the bathroom sending him into the hallway and down to the lobby without his shoes and pants. During the 2009 InterLeague series with the Brewers, Gomez stayed at the Pfister, but came armed with teammate SP Francisco Liriano and his trusty Bible.

What is it again they say about haunted hotels? Oh yeah, some guests check-in, but they never check-out. I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall during this series as Brewers Visitor’s Clubhouse Manager Phil Rozewicz asks if the Rays had a restful night in the Pfister. Even if something happened in the hotel, you can bet no one will want to give credence to the myths and legends.

Still, even though the team did not exist when the hotel was originally built, I wonder if Charles Pfister is a Brewers fan?

We Have Not Seen The Last of Scottie K

When his Tampa Bay Rays career started, I truly thought his career might end with a speech on the steps of Cooperstown, New York on a balmy Summer afternoon. Somehow you could not have humanly imagined his M L B story ending so unexpectedly. But no one guarantees anything in life…or in baseball.

Scott Edward Kazmir to me personally will go down as perhaps the greatest pitcher to pull on a Rays uniform. He had a special way of mesmerizing M L B players into an air of overconfidence before he introduced them to his wicked slider. Combined with his high octane fastball, this lethal combination set Kazmir up early for both high praise and league-wide accolades.

Off the field, Kazmir was the quintessential ambassadors of the new and improved Rays personality, especially after his triumphant 2007 campaign. Consider this tidbit for a moment, of the Rays 66 victories during the 2007 season, Kazmir spotted the Rays 13 wins. That might not get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it endeared him forever to the Rays Republic.

It was a bittersweet personal moment to hear that the Los Angeles Angels officially began to sever their ties with Kazmir who once one-upped fellow Twins southpaw Johanna Santana for the for the 2007 Strikeout title. At that exact moment in 2007, it seemed the Baseball World really was Kazmir’s oyster. 239 strikeouts, a Top 10 seat in the American League’s ERA race, and striking out 47 Red Sox during that 2007 Rays campaign endeared him to so many within Tampa Bay.

Who would have ever envisioned this always smiling southpaw was about to hit the plateau of his career at such a young age (23). Starting in the Spring of 2008 with a nagging elbow pain, Kazmir became the media darling when he boasted the Rays were going to the playoff in 2008.

Many thought Kaz might have over-medicated himself in the clubhouse, not fully believing in the “Miracle Summer of Rays baseball” would continue all the way to Kazmir taking the mound in the last Rays game of 2008 during the World Series.

From that last start during 2008, Kazmir did not seem like himself, his fastball seemed dulled a times. His slider now was average, and not the intimidating punch-out pitch. Somewhere on that cold and rainy night in Philadelphia Kazmir saw a ecentual piece of his pitching persona fade away. Kaz never has seemed to regained that extreme fire again.

Since that World Series start, Kazmir has seen so much of his once stellar world come down brick-by-brick. His 2009 Rays season had been a roller coaster of either brilliance or early hitting barrages and exits. The 2008 Kazmir seemed to be a hallow shell of his former spirited self. For some reason the moment Kazmir began to lose a bit of the feel for his slider, his world changed forever.

I was happy for Kazmir when he got a chance via a trade deadline deal to reunite with former Rays Pitching Coach Mike Butcher. Here was a authority figure who knew both Kazmirs’. Someone who might have a realistic shot of transforming the left-hander back to his former self. Some said at that moment the change of scenery, and into the hands of someone who mentored him early on in his career might be the perfect solution.

Somehow the Angels answers got muddled. The nagging questions of a lethargic and overcompensating Kazmir became larger as during some starts it just seemed Kazmir was pushing the ball towards the plate with his upper body instead of picking his spots.

What happened internally or physically to this once great leftie that intimidated so many American League hitters? Did a physical aliment that he hid for so long get the better of him and forced his body mechanics to fail or deceive him?

Did his hard throwing cause him to lose the feeling of his pitches in his fingers before the delivery to the plate? Or did his slider just become a hindrance instead of his saving grace?

I am a huge Kazmir mark. I have enjoyed watching Kazmir evolve and transcend during his Rays years. I still shutter at quick and hasty avalanche of his abilities spiraling downward over the last 2 seasons. Kazmir is a great person to be around, his vibrant competitive and fun-loving nature and enthusiasm for the game is down right infectious.

Those are the same traits he will need now to begin to rebuild himself if he wants to don another M L B jersey. Maybe this is a blessing. Possibly by having his career divorced from him will give him the motivation and determination to again rise above the ruins. Will afford him a “out of sight, out of mind” removal from the M L B spotlight and a realistic chance to de-construct his pitching mechanics and rebuild his career.

Sometimes things like this are a blessing in disguise. My advice to Scottie K is to take a few weeks to decompress, re-evaluate and just chill. Find that focal pitching center within him again then start to rebuild. Possibly call Pitching guru Rick Peterson, who once proclaimed he could “fix any pitcher “ and do the baby steps again. That might be hard for a pitcher who once ran a 6.7 60-yard dash.

I still remember watching your M L B debut August 23, 2004 in Seattle and cheering as you retired your first batter, Ichiro on a ground out to the shortstop. So much baseball promise and career moments seemed to be in front of you after that first win at Safeco Field.

Now it is your turn Scottie. Turn on both that Kazmir charm and determination and make the difficult journey back to the MLB. Some say you got $14.5 million reasons to walk away, but I truly think there is still a higher reward in store for you. You just got to take that first initial step back towards that clay raised mound again. Looking forward already to your next M L B start.

Youkilis’s Cleats Are Asking For Diplomatic Immunity

In Soccer it is called the “professional foul”. An action played out within the game itself sometimes brought about by frustration or a chance to throw a little intimidation into the mix, but suddenly spirals out of control and beyond it’s initial intent. Surely Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis was on the verge of seeing his own emotional steam kettle explode after going 0-4, including grounding into 2 double plays to end innings.

Professional fouls” are not rehearsed or even planned, but they are intended to change the course of a game, or send a message.

Youkilis possibly had no malace or intent to harm prior to his cleats coming down upon the left exposed calf of Tampa Bay Rays First Baseman Casey Kotchman, but it left more than just an impression on Kotchman’s calf post-game.

Youkilis was trying to do anything, even something dastardly to get his team some momentum last night. But to me, it was vintage “You-Kill-Us”.That to me was commonplace Kevin Youkilis. I have screamed and projected that pronunciation of his name at him for years during the Rays/Red Sox battles.

Sure Youkilis has been my Red Sox Bulls-Eye poster boy for a while as this “B” bonneted baseball antagonist always seems to drive a stake through the Rays Republics heart, or makes an impossible play to end a Rays rally. Youkilis always seems to do enough with his bat and glove to make you despise the guy. But this action has mee seeing a deeper shade of red than Tuesday night’s Red Sox jerseys.

Now I have some more potent vinegar for my veins to further despise this guy. Heck, Kotchman once wore the same Boston red jersey, but last night he was truly a casualty-in-waiting. Youkilis gives you reasons to not like him, from his funky bat maneuvers in the box, to his seemingly “old school” baseball demeanor. I think fellow cleat surgeon Ty Cobb would have loved Youkilis.

Rays First Baseman Casey Kotchman today told the Tampa Bay media, “ I know (Youkilis) didn’t do it on purpose.” Really Casey! I know you had your back to the play and thankfully got to complete the play for a critical out, but the video shows something a little more sinister in my eyes.

Come on Casey, Third Baseman Evan Longoria robbed Youkilis of a Red Sox offensive moment in a game dominated by Rays starter James Shields. Youkilis’s frustration breaking point had to have reached the red zone at that precise moment producing the second out of the 9th inning with Shields nursing a complete game shutout. There are too many aggressive embers burning under that hairless scalp of yours to not want to let out a little mis-guided aggression.

Even after Kotchman went down, the thing that further infuriated me is Youkilis did not even look Kotchman’s direction as he grabbed the now throbbing left calf. Youkilis watched the video replay on the Trop’s Jumbotron and jogged to the dugout like any other ground out in his career. I did not expect him to get down on one knee and profess his crafty deed, but I thought it warranted at least a visual signal of some sort.

Youkilis’s action last night will surely have some effect down the line either during this series or in the near future. Tonight’s Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson probably will not buzz Youkilis’s tower, but later someone like Rays relievers Joel Peralta, J P Howell or Kyle Farnsworth could certainly take care of some unfinished business. A “unwritten rule” could rears its ugly head.

In my opinion, Youkilis picked the wrong time to make any kind of Red Sox statement. It was the wrong time to circumvent his snide, snarly personality. Kotchman himself seems to want to throw it into the bulging pile of “ things that happen in the course of a game”, but I am not so diplomatic.

It was a spontaneous “ professional (baseball) foul” . It was an action meant to provoke an error or dropped ball. Just looking at the photos. Why is Youkilis running so far inside the baseline on this play? Most hitters coming out of the right side of the box run closer to the line or in foul territory.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, it was either intentional, or an accident. I admit accidents do happen in the course of running the bases, but this one just seems so clearly pronounced to me. To me, it was a blatant action.

If you notice in the photos, the Home Plate Umpire Dave Rackley seemed a bit focused on the play from afar. Rackey had his mask off fast and was watching the progression of Youkilis down the First Base line with a little more focus than usual. Makes you wonder if the Youkilis was grumbling in the Batter’s box and ended it course on Kotchman’s calf.

“Professional Fouls” have no place in baseball, but if an action looks to harm or make a statement with intent to injury…Instant ejections is the only solid cure to keeping this illness at bay. So mind your “P’s” and “Q’s” tonight Youkilis, or you might get some professional guidance right in your ear hole. 

Just Got My First Professional Photo Credit

Last week I started a new feature on my blog where I spent more than a few evenings/mornings browsing through the stacks and piles of funny, intense and often critical photos taken by those who hit the photo pits of a MLB stadium every night/day.

These collected photos included those same groups of MLB players we all gaze upon every day either in person, or through our television screens. Some of the photos show human moments both in error and in surreal action before, during or after an MLB game. Some of the photos bordered on the comical while other showed visual evidence of something amazing happening in front of the telephoto lens.

On May 28th I took my usual spot down in the photo pit in front of the stage for the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series. I was really excited to see punk skater girl Avril Lavigne mix it up that night, and wanted to get a few specials shots of her sporting her trademark green streaks in her hair, and her neon green motocross boots.

Photographers for the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Concert Series only get a 3-song chance of getting that special photo, or action that might some day grace a major magazine, or a local publication. I had no idea that night one of my photos would eventually have a special spot for eternity on the Web.

I always try and upload all my Rays concert photos to my Flickr Photostream so that a larger audience can see more of the photos that did not make the cut on the blog post. Usually I get the usual comments and suggestions, trying to hone my craft a little more with every shoot. Little did I know this one concert set would produce my first photo credit as an amateur photographer.

When I first got the email asking for me if I was the original photographer and asking for me to give my consent to Wikipedia to use one of my Avril Lavigne concert shots for Avril Lavigne’s Wikipedia page, I was floored. I had a blog post of a late September 2010 Rays concert featuring Adam Lambert included on his International website, but my photo did not get a credit.

Here was a huge Internet factoid machine asking little old Renegade for his approval to use one of my photos. How could I say no. More or less, how could I not go screaming out into the night with excitement. Originally the photo graced the “Goodbye Lullaby” segment of the web page, but has now been elevated to the main stats box located on the top right of the web page.

The three biggest things in my life are baseball, music and writing right now. Photography is a new toy in which I am learning on the fly. For this to happen truly took my breath away. It has changed me a bit in that maybe I will partake in a few photo classes, get more versed in this art form that can visually tell a story without words.

I take my photos nightly hoping someone finds something they like within them. I do not do it for money like those who submit their work to Getty Images or other syndicated services, I take these photos for the pure sake of bringing that image to life without muttering a single word.

I might be a bit over dramatic and over zealous at this moment because these kind of things have not happened in a long time. Recognition from outside the MLBlogs World have been few and far between, and sometimes a pat on the back can re-energize you to push beyond the next limit with gusto. Right now I could take on Goliath, and possible get a unique photo in the process.

This is my first photo credit. My first introduction into an arena I have only dipped my toes into before. I am not diving in headfirst, just going to wade in a bit and enjoy this small bit of chance luck and visual acceptance. All with the help of a special punk rock Princess jamming on her black and white lacquered Telecaster guitar with the green hair streaming .

You always remember your first………. This first might just last a lifetime.

Are the Rays Ready For the Fan Base Evolution?

What defines if a Major League Baseball team has a true fan base? Is it the amount of people flocking into the ballpark for a home series clutching cowbells and noisemakers, or is it the visual show of support at “Watch Parties” even as the team battles 3,000 miles away on a given late night.

Does the simple fact of wearing your MLB club’s colors or even marking your car with a Rays specialty license plate make you a intricate part of the Tampa Bay Rays fan base? That simple term “fan base” can literally be thrown in so many different positions, used in so many cloaked vernaculars, and still you could come up short with the precise connotation of what this unit should entail.

The Rays are in a particularly sensitive juncture in their team’s history as the 14-year faithful of this team, who at one time possibly anointed another team their own, begin to finally mesh with the youth that are beginning of coming of age by purchasing their own tickets and merchandise.

The Rays are about to hit that ebb and flow tidal pool of the stark reality that those fans who have gotten those FREE giveaways on Sundays as teens or younger, are about to become their primary consumers. Other teams have hit this sensitive juncture in their team’s history and their solid foundation within their fan base is a testament to the next generation taking the reigns and guiding the team’s future.

It usually takes around 20-25 MLB seasons for a team, like the Rays to get a solidified fan base built from their fans growing up within the “Rays Way” from the cradle. This youth segment of fans grew up with all things “Rays” around their environment and are about to transcend from being the “guests” of their parents, to purchasing Rays game tickets and plans for themselves.

When that moment happens, that simple ticket purchase will signal the second and most important phase of the Rays fan base expanding towards its next level. This is not meant as a deterrent or even an insult to fans like myself who are “ long in the tooth” and have slaved and died a little at times following this team during the lean years.

The reality is most of us who have established this first generational Rays fan base have a prior MLB team loyalty way before the name Devil Rays was first selected. For myself it was the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals who used to train here every Spring. I would be a constant member of the “Knothole Gang” at games, or at the many MLB training complexes that dotted the St. Petersburg area.

Then when the Tampa Baseball group formed and systematically began their “Eenie, Meenie, Miney-Moe” process of finding an occupant for the vacant stadium nestled in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, I shed those teams colors for my home team. And even as this group saw their ownership aspirations spurned by Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and even the South-side of Chicago, my loyalties began to deepen for this eventual MLB staple that will reside in my home town.

I am what you call a converted fan base member. There were no Rays team for me to live and breathe about as a kid. Back then MLB ball packed up during the last week of March and shipped out up North or West, and never saw the Florida sunshine until the next Spring. There were no Rays uniforms in my Little League.

The aspect of a team playing MLB-style ball during an real MLB season in my neck of the wood was pure fantasy. I had to travel almost all day to Atlanta if I wanted to shag a real MLB ball or see the major leaguers at work. I am one of those fans who had a hankering and knowledge of the game before Rays starter Winston Abreu even threw the first pitch in franchise history. That is what makes this early Rays fan base so unique.

There are former team loyalists from Boston, New York, St. Louis and even Cleveland that have embraced and changed their allegiance towards the Rays flag over these last 14 years. That makes the Rays fan base a more flexible gathering, with some prone to quick exits stage right when things get bad, possibly reverting to their long time family MLB ties.

I have had more than a dozen vocal altercations with long term followers of the Red Sox, Yankees and even Indians that our Rays fan base is in its baby-steps mode. That we have less than 15 years active visual and vocal acknowledgment of our team’s existence.

Their squads have long established and sometimes storied histories and family lineages in some cases, 3 generations back to cement their MLB loyalties. That is why the present youth of this Rays Republic will be this team’s first homegrown generation. The young fans in the Rays stands right now will be the first born and bred supporters and the next in the Rays fan evolution to further solidify the Rays fan base backbone.

This younger segment could eventually decide the Rays future here in Tampa Bay, not the mouthy posturing politicians. The Rays franchise is about to embark into uncharted waters, possibly with a few storm henceforth before eventually coming out into the sunshine.

Fans like myself will always be here in some form or another, but the Rays management would be wise to nurture and help this next level of Rays fans mature, or be doomed by mis-aligning their priorities.

More and more I am seeing the excitement in the faces of young fans at Rays games as they fight for Batting Practice balls, get autographs, and cherish the trinkets and giveaways the team provides to them. Soon it will be their turn to give back to the Rays…..Hopefully they are ready, willing and able to add another chapter, another generation to the Rays unfolding MLB tradition.

Maddon’s Road Theme Mastery Strike Again

Ahhhh the always popular Tampa Bay Rays Joe Maddon inspired theme parties as the squad embarks for the airport and their chartered trip to Wonderland. This time unlike the “All White” or “Cowboy” themed endeavor, this one brought about some unique creativity and unity, plus a possible fantasy wish granted in absentee for some of the Rays curious female fans.

But there were a few disturbing trends hidden within the themes themselves. Why is it the clothing of choice for much of the assembled slumber party members was the always popular “One-sy”, complete with the backside flap.

That was not the paramount disturbing concern for me, sure seeing Ben Zobrist ensemble of a particular tie-dye madness did strike me a bit….well psychedelic in nature, but it was a twin to his wife Julianne’s fashion pick. Seeing B J Upton even thrusting his Adidas endorsed tracksuit aka “ stealth night maneuvers” for the cool and wicked set did not offend me. But there was one thing that truly struck a chord with me.

And no, it was not the white “One-sy” of rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson or even the Kung Fu Panda-pseudo headgear of Rays reliever Joel Peralta. Sure some of us might awaken tonight from a dead sleep dreaming of Rays broadcaster/ “Lord I was born a Rambling man” Todd Kalas and his Scrooge night cap, but those are just surface things to the real itch that is scratching at my brain stem right now.

 Where are the other missing members of the Rays traveling party? Is it possible that we might have “uncovered” something special here? Could we have possibly stumbled on a fact or thing that was once secret about a few of these Rays players?

With guys like Relievers Kyle Farnsworth, Johnny Damon, Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos absent from the photo, could there be some of the Rays roster who might actually sleep au natural? I know it is shocking to think about it, but you have to ask where the missing Rays might be.

But the again, some people consider their sleep apparel to be of a personal nature and might not want to divulge their tendencies or their nighty-night attire for general public scrutiny. But you got to commend the playfulness of guys like Rays videoographer Chico Fernandez who dressed errily reminiscent of a robe icon Hugh Hefner. That was worth its weigh in gold to see.

It would have been a perfect time for Rays standout Sam Fuld to actually show he wears Super hero inspired sleepwear, but he instead wore a more plain Clark Kent wardrobe of gray sweatshirt and dark blue sweatpants…..Maybe he was in disguise….Legends tend to do that sometimes.

 Still, it was a great showing by the Rays, and all in good fun that they participated in another one of Maddon’s always comical and inspiring themed getaway endeavors. Might not have gone over as well as the old tacky golf pants or Brayser road trip ensemble photos, but shows the behind the scenes personalities and playful nature of so many of these Rays players and staffers.

Maddon originally used these events and inspired attire-based fun-tastic time to bring together his fold and unite them off the field as well as on the field. It has produced some impressive moments in photos and individual personality-based clothing options since its inception in 2008. But that is Maddon.

He uses outside the realm of traditional baseball road trip thoughts to make the game seamlessly disappear from his charges minds before his team embarks towards another city. That pushes the team’s subconsciously towards another day, another chance at victory by shedding the game normal travel norms and rules. Outside the box thinking is all Maddon, and I do not see that changing any time soon.

Wonder what is on tap for the upcoming road trip to Milwaukee? Maybe a 50’s inspired wear like Fonzie, Richie, or Laverne? Well, maybe not Lenny and Squiggy.

Pajama Party Photos taken by Deborah Robinson