August 2011

Loria’s Fingerprints Are All Over the Morrison Caper

Day by day I become more in love with the Stuart Sternberg way of ding business in the Major Leagues. Sure the Tampa Bay Rays have employed such risk management and unique statistical frameworks in player evaluation that would make an MIT grad head spin, but their dealings, good or bad have never become personal.

That is possibly why the recent way the Florida Marlins treated one of their top prospects Logan Morrison reminds me more of a Columbian cartel than a Major League Baseball ownership group. Only thing missing from the demotion and humiliation of Morrison was the Columbian necktie. But then again, what else would you expect from a owner who has no soul.

The trouble seemed to have escalated after Morrison had to cancel a recent charity bowling tourney after the Marlins in-house Foundation seems to have better things to do than help a budding star of the dis-enchanted franchise. Morrison was disturbed by the team’s nonchalant attitude towards his event, and humbly announced it cancellation. Somewhere Marlins owner Jeff Loria must have been sporting a glowing Cheshire cat grin.

I am sorry, but I have seen the Rays Foundation basically bend over backwards to not only help and support a Rays player’s charity needs, but also have people on hand the day of the event to help with any problems or coordination. Funny how a simple 400 miles difference in locales in the same state can facilitate 180 degree differences in charity philosophy.

So Morrison consulted with his MLB Player Rep Marlins 3B Wes Helms and both concluded that Morrison had good reasoning for missing the Marlins up-coming Season Ticket holder event.

What transpired after Morrison missed the event brings up the same quick and spiteful thinking of Loria’s lynch mob performed after then Marlins Manager Joe Girardi told Loria to stop harassing the game Home Plate Umpire. We all know what happened to Girardi, and how fast the axe fell. That is why this whole Morrison event has the fingerprints of a Loria’s spite-fest all over it.

The knife came down swift the clean on Helms who was released by the team almost immediately, and Morrison was given a 1-way ticket to New Orleans, home of the Triple-A Zephyrs.

Funny how the Marlins did not try and facilitate a compromise with Morrison prior to the event, or even fix this injustice before Morrison had to become a no-show for the Season Ticket holders. Even less humorous is the comment from the Marlins President of Baseball Operations( hatchet man) Larry Beinfest:

We thought it was in the best interest for Logan to go down and work on things. He needs to concentrate on all aspects of being a Major Leaguer and work his way back”

Tell me that is not the pot calling the kettle black. Sure Morrison was hitting around .249, but he was second on the Marlins in Home Runs and had a great arm. You can bet before all of this is said and done, Morrison and his agent Fred Wray will have more than a few discussions with the MLB Player Association.

In the mean time, Morrison has accepted the demotion and plans to work his way back to the Marlins. Wray might investigate a bit more and dive into a MLB grievance, but that is a lengthy project and Morrison balking at his demotion would have compounded the problem. By Morrison accepting his punishment like a man, at least one of the two parties are doing something adult about it all.

Even wilder about this whole charade is that Morrison attended an autograph event earlier in the day and it went beyond its scheduled time. Morrison would have been late no matter what to the beginning of the Marlins Season Ticket meet-and-greet, so why didn’t someone in the Marlins camp ease the thunder before it go out of hand. Even shadier is the fact that Morrison got the okay to miss the event by the Marlins MLB Rep Helms.

Beinfest did come a little clean by not refuting claims that some off-the-field issues factored into the Morrison decision. All through this I can still see the fingerprints of an oppressive owner pushing down on a player who used his own free will to make a decision.

I hope Morrison can rise above this and come out smelling like a rose because the Marlins ownership once again smell more like a old landfill. Sure there were ways to compromise this from even happening, but both sides have gone mute on the issue and only those in the trenches know the truth now.

Events like this make me appreciate and admire the way Sternberg and Rays President Matt Silverman rebuilt the foundation of this Rays franchise back in 2007. They might have brought more innovations and frameworks from a more sterile financial background, but they never forgot the human side of the evolution.

Makes me almost want to ask What Would Stu Do? On this issue. Easy answer is he would have least listened to Morrison side before banishing him to Triple-A and putting up a possible future brick wall between the team and a budding star. Then again, that would have been the humane or “Rays” thing to do.

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.

Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Sigh! I was excited to see this Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees contest this afternoon. Mother Nature for some odd reason had a different game plan in mind. This deluge of liquid sunshine has now pushed the Rays into a possible day/night double trouble matchup on September 21st against the Bronx Bombers.

 If there is the one thing the Rays Republic have grown to love over the past 14 seasons, it is that rarely is there ever a rain out at home. The pure fantastic fact that you will always be dry and a comfortable 72 degrees when you venture into the Teflon dome of Tropicana Field.

 It is is one of the greatest things that endears me to this domed stadium. The pure fact that only twice during the Rays existence has a game ever been canceled or postponed due to torrid Summer Florida weather patterns is a true testament to building a domed roof over any and every Major League Baseball playing field.

The most memorable postponement came because of the mild-mannered threat of Hurricane Frances back on September 4-5, 2004. It might have made the Rays and the Tigers take a few extra days off because of the impending weather, but it also developed into the Rays only doubleheader in team history played on September 30,2004.

 The only time a game has been postponed due to weather in Tropicana Field history stamped a permanent mark as the Rays first and only chance at playing a doubleheader under the dome.

 What is more surprising is that the Rays then flew to New York to play the Yankees for a previously re-rescheduled double header that had been reconfigured twice before the two teams finally played their postponed two games on September 9,2004. Ironic to today’s rain out event, but true.

Because of the Teflon-coated dome above their heads, the Rays have only had to re-schedule one set of game for a doubleheader in their existence, which most teams would envy in a heartbeat. But the Rays/Yankees cancellation is not unique as delays are happening all over the country due to weather, even postponing the Philadelphia Phillies versus Washington Nationals finale in Nationals Park.

 It is the one constant that a fan of a team with an open air stadium can guarantee at least once during the MLB season, that rain will end up ruining your parade to the ballpark.

But at Tropicana Field, it has been a sure thing or a “given” that the Rays will play out their 81-game home game slate in its entirety without rain delays, field prep after a sudden downpour, or even postponing of a contest after waiting around at the stadium for 90 minutes.

When you hit Tropicana Field, you know you are going to see the entire baseball game that night. And that is a distinctive advantage that the Rays fans can embrace and find as a beautiful constant to attending and enjoying Rays games compared to some who get bogged down in rainy situations elsewhere in the MLB.

Because of its warm and dry comfort, the aspect of having a field tarp on the sidelines of Tropicana Field to cover the playing surface has never even been an item of concern for the Rays groundskeepers. Sure there are a few slits in the roofing where moisture can dribble down on you within the Trop (Centerfield), but the ability to keep the fans and players dry when the winds are howling outside, and the rain is beating upon the roof like the Indian’s famous kettle drum, makes the Trop a needed necessity for professional baseball in Florida.

Even if the Rays home, Tropicana Field is the last dome of its kind still playing games under its illuminated white roof in the Major Leagues, it is still home, and an always dry home to the Rays Republic.

That is a great assurance to have in a state where the weather can change every five minutes…or less. Amazingly enough, the Florida Marlins, our MLB brethren to the Southeast, have constantly been on daily alert worrying about the threat of a band of late afternoon or evening showers raining down on any of its 81 scheduled games. The Marlins have only had to re-schedule 2 games so far in 2011 due to the weather. Amazingly, none of those contests have been at their home stadium. Both re-scheduled contests have come against the Phillies( 4/16) and Mets (5/17) on the road.

Rays fans and players know confidently that they are going to be dry except for the game time sweat they produce on the turf at every Rays home game. I agree that totally that baseball was designed to be played under the sun and stars, to let the elements of this Earth wreck havoc and mayhem upon the game,and I can respect that thinking.

 But in a humid and unstable moisture-based climate like Florida, having a roof over your head can be a beautiful thing. Especially with the Summertime storms that turn rain sideways and can produce wind gusts beyond 50 mph in an instant.

 I have experienced only one rain delay while going to a Rays away series in Cleveland back on May 15,2004. I had a grand time just being within the wet droplets and experiencing a rain delay and all its aspects personally. It was a once in a lifetime adventure for someone who’s team plays their games within a dome.

I love the pure fact that when I go to a Rays game, there is a constant that I will see a baseball game that night, and even with the inner fabric of the Trop swirling from the wind gusts outside, I will be dry and comfortable up until the last out of the ballgame.

Rain delays can wreck havoc on the mood and demeanor of a home crowd, but with a roof like the Trop over our heads for at least the next 10 years, we can be confident to see great games without a hint of delay or impromptu rain that sends both players and fans scurrying into the overhanging stands.

But I do miss a little rain on my face. The fun and special moments that a rain delay can produce…like meeting new friends at another ballpark and learning something new in a visiting town.

I will leave you with a great quote from “Bull Durham” by Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.”

Always Room on the Kotchman Bandwagon

I was out and about last night watching the Tampa Bay Rays game, and a patron at a local sports bar was more than vocal and adamant that “ players come here ( to the Rays) to be re-discovered” by Major League Baseball. He went on about how past Rays players like Jose Canseco, Dwight Gooden and Carlos Pena came here on the downside of their careers, then found their own magic elixir again then ride the accelerating curve of their new success out of town as their wave began to crest.

Even though 2 of the 3 players mentioned by this guy had checkered pasts, and limited futures after departing Tampa Bay, I began to see his cloudy vision. That by being out of the media’s main line of fire and eyesight, devoid of the daily badgering of their pasts, these guys again found their groove under the palm trees and dome in this tropical hamlet.

Tampa Bay has seen several of their ballplayers reconstruct and reconfigure their careers under the Teflon dome of Tropicana Field. I remember fondly back in 2007 when Carlos Pena signed to play First Base for the Rays, baseball people scoffed, called Pena a “minor league product” and basically thought the Rays took a step backwards in their pursuit of an impact player.

Pena only went on to win the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year award, and sandwiched that meaty accomplishment between a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger and a share of a American League Home Run title dolloped on top. For once, maybe it was good that the molasses slow South hides this treasure for so long.

Who is to say that same lightning will not strike again in 2011 for the Rays? Wonder if the rest of the baseball world know we are the lightning capital of the World? How else can you explain the jolt of energy and excitement from the rest of the baseball world as so many around the country are finally boarding the Casey Kotchman bandwagon.

I remember early on when he was promoted by the Rays from Triple-A, his ESPN Fantasy ownership hovered around 4.7 percent and less than a week ago Kotchman had finally peaked above the 10% ownership mark.

How in the world could such a superb defender with a tendency to hit for a high average get overlooked for so long? Didn’t any of the Kotchman magic remain with him when he got his first hurrah as a Los Angeles Angel? Did Kotchman somehow get lost in the yearly shuffle with his luggage picking up stickers from ATL, beantown and Seattle?

Sure he became more of a bit player/defensive rogue in those towns because of higher paid players in front of him, but he still had the glove that was always destined to trap everything hit or thrown his direction. Why is it now that suddenly Kotchman is the toast of baseball when he has been doing it all along, but was under the radar.

Was it the fact his first career walk-off homer recently against the Kansas City Royals might have suddenly awoken the rest of the baseball world with gusto that Kotchman is still alive and well in the MLB. Or did the baseball talking heads just figure that Kotchman’s stay in Tampa Bay would be short-lived, so the escalating Kotchman storyline did not warrant any special attention by the Nation-wide media baseball pundits.

Now that Kotchman is producing at a robust .339 batting average trailing only Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez (.350) in the American League batting title race, why is everyone so enamored that Casey still has a bat?

Could it be his 4 home runs in the last 6 games that has pushed his name upon the lips of the usual fan? Or possibly the fact Kotchman is on fire with 9multi-hit efforts, 3 three-hit games and is batting over .400 in the first 3 innings this season., which is the highest average in the majors. Had Kotchman really fallen that far off the MLB radar that people are surprised? Well, I’m not.

Just like Pena did in 2007, Kotchman started off at Triple-A to begin the season, not sure of his future role, if any with the Rays. With a change of heart by the Rays, Kotchman now could become the only player in the last 50 years to hit above .300 with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title after starting the season on a minor league roster. (for the stat heads, the last guy to do it was Cleveland Indian OF Miguel Dilone in 1981).

Even more amazing is the pure fact Kotchman has improved his average by 122 points from his .217 average for the 2010 season. Among hitters with 300 plate appearances in 2 consecutive seasons, only 1 AL player in history has finished with a higher average improvement from 1 season to the next: New York Giants OF George Burns, who improved his average by 126 points back in 1917-18. Amazingly, Kotchman has a solid chance to also eclipse that long standing record.

I remember writing a blog post back on January 28, 2011 about the signing of Kotchman that so many others around baseball just seemed to laughed about. Kotchman was seen as a minor leaguer at best, never going to be a consistent member of the Rays offense. My how those same people are yelling to the mountain tops now about the “Magic of Kotch” and his miracle rejuvenation. Doesn’t the same reversal of opinions remind you of a certain other former Rays First Baseman?

How many people knew that when Kotchman went 0-3 versus Kansas City last night he snapped an 8-game hitting streak. This from a guy that most around baseball viewed strictly as a late inning defensive replacement. But Kotchman’s rise goes deeper than just a recent spiffy .339 batting average.

He ranks 3rd in the AL on the road with a .324 average, 2nd in the league against right-handers (.347) and 5th in on-base percentage (.398). But most people still only know him for his glove. They do not know that Kotchman has reached base safely in banked 27 extra base hits in the last 68 games after only producing 5 extra base shots in his first 35 games.

Oh, and about that defense, Kotchman has committed only one error this season, back on July 16th against Boston. His previous error occurred an incredible 102 games games ago, back on August 21, 2010 when Kotchman was wearing the Seattle Mariners colors.

Want to talk value. Kotchman is leading American League First Baseman for the 4th consecutive season in fielding average (.999). For his career he has committed only 10 errors in 5,683 chances for a .998 fielding percentage, which is tops among any and all Major League players EVER with 500 games played at First Base. And all for a 2011 Rays base salary of $ 750,000. Again kind of like another Rays First Baseman trying to reestablish his worth on the MLB market.

I am happy that Kotchman is getting this kind of positive attention again. He deserves every ounce of it. We do not have to have a first baseman who cranks out 30 home runs when we got one who can produce runs, provide a solid wall of defense and keeps a low profile.

In their 14 season existence, the Rays have been lucky to have the talents of players like Travis Lee, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez and Pena who have all manned that critical first point in the Rays defense triangle. Some how I think over the next few weeks the media talking heads will finally begin to spout the initial comparisons between Pena’s 2007 “comeback” Rays season and 2011 “Magic of Kotch” phenomenon.

The media hype is sure to come fast and furious, possibly to the point of overkill, but that is what baseball does. It seems to want to showcase the success stories, those who found their way back to the top. Kotchman can be proud of the work he has done as a member of the Rays. Surely in the next few years kids will tell of the day they saw Kotchman launch one into the stands for a walk-off homer, or provide an incredible play at first that rivals anyone.

Just for those curious, as of today, Kotchman has seen his ESPN Fantasy Baseball stock rise to a season high 30.7 percent team ownership. Possibly the rest of the country is now buying tickets to board the Kotchman bandwagon. I hope they remain on board for the entire journey, because I still feel deeply that the best is yet to come in 2011 for Kotchman.

What else can you say about a guy who even as a defense against an Evan Longoria shaving cream pie? In the end, Kotchman will lace up his cleats, button his uniform top and oil his glove just as he has done so many times before both as a youth and as a rejuvenated member of the Rays …back here in good old Tampa Bay.

Rays Concert Guest Miranda Cosgrove in Tour Bus Accident

In a bit of news today that will send a dark cloud throughout the younger regiment of the Rays Republic, Nickelodeon “iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove was in an 2-vehicle accident last night.

As of this moment, Cosgrove who suffered a broken right ankle from the accident has postponed her current “Dancing Crazy” Tour, which included a Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert on September 3, 2011. As of this moment, Cosgrove and her mother will return to their home to “heal up”.

The incident happened during the night hour’s while Cosgrove’s tour bus was winding it ways towards Kansas after a concert in Ohio on Wednesday evening. The accident occurred on I-70 just outside of Vandalia, Illinois.

On a mostly pitch black road, Cosgrove’s tour bus driver suddenly came upon a overturned semi tractor trailer unit and instead of trying to swerve and possibly overturn themselves, the driver made an assertive move to brake and hit the overturned truck head-on.

Of the 5 people on board the bus, Cosgrove sustained a fractured right ankle that will require a cast, and a broken right big toe. The driver sustained the blunt of the force of the accident and had to be airlifted from the crash scene to a local hospital where he received 45 stitches for his injuries. Cosgrove’s mother also received some bruises in the collision.

Cosgrove has been more than adamant that the course of action by her tour bus driver was courageous and kept the injuries and possibilities of further harm to a minimum. Cosgrove has told people close to her “if it wasn’t for her bus driver’s quick thinking this morning, she might be dead now.”

This is not the first time the Tampa Bay Rays front office has had to deal with a accident concerning one of their planned concert guests. Most Rays fans might remember the Go-Go;s had to cancel their 2010 Rays/Hess Express appearance after band member Jane Weidlin suffered a major ACL tear during a 20-foot fall during a hike in the California mountains.

A possible scenario could be that Cosgrove could still perform for her Tropicana Field date after the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles, but in stark reality, the concert by Cosgrove could possibly be canceled in the next few days

With the concert still over 3 weeks away, there is still a small window of time for Cosgrove to possibly resume her tour and the Tropicana Field date, but rest and the healing process might be the best medicine for Cosgrove right now than performing.

In reality, within the next few days it is possible the Rays will announce a cancellation of the concert, with a possible substitute band possibly announced in Cosgrove’s place.

It is a shame this budding star had the misfortune of coming upon the overturned tractor trailer in the dead of night, but the quick thinking of her tour bus driver adverted an impending disaster and a more uncertain result. Maybe Cosgrove can also follow the  2011 path of the Go-Go’s coming back to the Trop and performing for the fans. Could we possibly see Cosgrove do the same in 2012 and come back and perform for her Tampa Bay fans?

Drivers with Chauffeur’s licenses sometimes get a bad rap by people traveling on the highways and byways of this country. This time the safety training and impulse judgment of a experienced driver might have saved more than a life, it saved a budding icon.  Godspeed to the driver and to Miss Cosgrove  during their recovery.


Accident Photos by

Stay Classy Tampa Bay

Tell me another Major League Baseball team that embraces their community with such abandon and vigor that the Tampa Bay Rays do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every day now a player, Coach or even members of the Rays front office are out and about trying to make a difference in our Tampa Bay community.

From building playgrounds, to charity events, this team has always had a solid focal point towards giving back, giving of themselves, and this community has taken them also into their own arms. Other communities around MLB also get a glowing show the faith, love and respect from their athletes Tampa Bay does, I personally think it is just glowing brighter right now in Tampa Bay.

The Rays have been blessed as a franchise to have a minimum of off-the-field” distractions and behavioral problem players in their brief existence. I want to attribute it to the low key and socially class-less South code of life, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon is from blue-collar Pennsylvania and VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is from Texas.

Still, it has been remarkable how this community embraces and give the up most levels of respect when they venture beyond the gates of Tropicana Field and head out into the Tampa Bay community. From the ever increasing band of “BJ’s Bunch” or the newly formed “Joyce’s Juniors”, young and old have embraced these players and come emblazoned with their Rays gear as a show of community solidarity.

I kind of like how the Rays players have been able to live in a bit of seclusion and security instead of the bustle and fast pace of those other regions. This is not a condemnation of large city fans like Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, it is just a different vibe down here.

It simply amazes me how the general public around Tampa Bay has not smothered or scared our Rays into hiding with idiotic banter or heckling as they serve our communities and visit with fans. I guess the fans in this region understand that these players are performing a job, and we give them space to do their work, even out in the community.

Think about it for a moment, where else in this country do you think a professional baseball player can go out with such abandon to local phone stores, supermarkets or even banks and fans do not get out of sorts, rowdy or even testy at the mire mention of someone running late, or having to leave. This region seems to get it. But then again, Tampa Bay is a mostly service-oriented community.

From Rays outfielder Sam Fuld visiting USF Diabetic Center this week visiting with kids and their families who go through the same daily struggles from type 1 Diabetics just like Fuld daily. Or seeing Matt Joyce returning to a local supermarket chain where he once bagged groceries to help the Tampa Bay chapter of Feeding America by tossing in throw after throw of food and goods into a cart like he was picking off runners at second base.

This community is lucky to have such great and budding Tampa Bay community leaders. In a time when so many people speak of and yearn for role models for our youth, this Rays team from top to bottom spawns so many choices. From James Shields and his work with foster children centers, to even the Rays wives teaming up recently for a backpack and school supplies drive to support the PACE Center for Girls.

From stem to stern, there are plenty of heroes and inspirations to go around both on this Rays roster and within their own front offices. It is one of the reasons I always open my hands to help at any Rays event possible to volunteer or support this team and their many causes. This is truly a team that “ gets it” as is open to embracing their seasonal community with open arms.

If you have ever attended an outside Rays event whether it is a autograph signing or a appearance at a hospital or McDill Air Force Base, this team is greeted with smiles, cheers and loads of positive vibes. To this day I have never heard of a Rays heckler, arrogant fan or disturbance at any of their outside charity or community events.

As a former athlete, giving back was always something I wanted to do, felt I needed to do for my community. With this Tampa Bay community embracing the players as they perform these duties and tasks, and also respecting their place in this community, the sky is the limit to the further outpouring of the Rays involvement and outside endeavors to helping those in need in our community.

Next time you go to a Rays community event, look them in the eyes and tell them “thank you”, it is that type of comment that fuels many more community efforts and events for these players. Events where we can also walk in the footsteps of role models for our own growing sons and daughters. 

Just Like a Musical Avalanche, Goo Goo Dolls Picked Up Speed and Swept Us Away

Taking photos during a concert sometimes comes with their own hidden dangers. Now I am not talking about the time Vanilla Ice wanted to get every photographer wet in the pit, or even when Pat Monahan of Train decided to do an impromptu journey around the Trop turf. Sometimes artists just do not like the camera.

That same scenario came to head Saturday night during the Goo Goo Dolls show during the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series. It has been common knowledge to those who follow music that Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik’s propensity to be camera shy. Most people might not know that in the beginning Rzeznik would not sing due to his shyness.

So the night was an adventure in creative poising and posturing, hoping for the right shot, or maybe even a facial glance towards a lens. Not going to say the night was a total success, but Rzeznik did give me a few well aimed photos, and a night to remember.

Ironically, it was after their third song “Here Is Gone” that Rzeznik began to unfold his personality and. the real concert went from 0-60 in a flash.

Here is a bit of Goo Goo Dolls trivia for the Rays Republic, Rzeznik did not officially become the voice of the band until their third album “Hold Me Up: in 1990. Previously it was Robby Takac the band wild bass guitarist that took the mic before Rzeznik became comfortable and they started cranking out their many hits.

The band’s 17-song set was a huge flashback for some fans that displayed just how much the band had matured and grown as artists since their first hit. From their first song of the night “Last Hot Night” to their final song “Broadway”, the band really did take us down an interesting path with Rzeznik becoming more and more personable as the night went along.

Even with the bump in the road in the beginning, this was a great concert filled with songs we all knew by sound, if not by heart. From “Slide” introduced second on Saturday night to “Iris” being performed in a different way, but still have the same heart string pulls of emotion. This is a band that embodies the 1990’s in so many ways, even though their biggest hit “Iris” did not hit the charts until 1998.

After the third song with our cameras in our bags and non of us milling about the photo pit, truly the night began to shine for Rzeznik and the rest of the Goo Goo Dolls. It truly was a great way to bring to a close the Go-Go Goo Goo weekend of concerts. By the way, the Rays did ask about the possible inclusion of possibly Lady GaGa performing, but the team balked at a $ 1 million asking price.

Still a Go-Go Goo Goo Gaga weekend would have been beyond historic. Still, the Goo Goo Dolls were the perfect cheery on top of the 2 concert events, complete with smoke machines, a light explosion and the vocals of Rzeznik that you could recognize even in a vacuum. It was seriously that good.

Even as the assembled masses were trying to get the band to come out for an additional song, their 17-song set and night was over just before the clock neared the midnight hour. I especially like their rendition of the classic 1977 Supertramp hit “Give A Little Bit”. No disrespect to the 1970’s iconic band, but I enjoyed Rzeznik’s personal changes and riffs a bit more than the original.

In the end as band that began their journey with the name The Sex Maggots and were banned by some promoters in Buffalo, New York from clubs found their groove. Even Rzeznik found his rhythm, found his voice and provided another moment in Rays concert history we will all never forget, especially the photographers’.

Goo Goo Dolls Rays Renegade Flickr Photostream

Cobb’s Honesty and Rays Diligence Could Save More Than His Career.

It is so easy for a pitcher to rule numbness and “tingles” throughout their arm as just the offshoot symptoms of a “dead arm” syndrome. His team could also push off the discomfort and pain towards that same side of the coin, and just let a pitcher works his way out of the situation. But I want to take the time to commend both the Rays Medical Staff and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his crew  in their swift and concise decision making process concerning rookie pitcher Alex Cobb.

 Cobb is a budding, talented young pitcher who could have easily tried to hide his condition on Saturday night in fear of losing his place in the rotation, or possibly again being demoted back to the minors. Cobb could have taken the path of deception and the condition could have escalated or gotten worse until damage was irreversible and either surgery or shutting him down for the season was the only solution. In this case, honesty might have been the perfect course of action, and saved more than just his pitching career.

Some could say the play during the game where he had to come over and cover First Base on a bunt single by the A’s Coco Crisp could have been the precursor to this aliment coming to the surface. A blunt motion or force upon his right arm could have jarred the symptoms, or possibly brought to light a potential hazard in waiting. But that is just conjecture until the final medical reports ate filed.

Sure we might not know the extent or cause of Cobb’s arm numbness or sensations yet, but if the Rays learned anything from the Rocco Baldelli situation, it is to take nothing for granted. Sometimes a simple diagnosis would be the perfect solution, but the problem could still be there hiding, waiting for another chance to spring up and cause more havoc for Cobb in the future. By being concise and precise, the Rays could eliminate mirror image symptoms that occur within our own bodies.

But this story has a double dose of goodness to it too. Cobb by revealing the “numbness” in his arm to the Rays Head Trainer  Ron Porterfield and Maddon, it put into motion an immediate plan to try and decipher the symptoms and get conclusive answers towards solving Cobb’s discomfort. Cobb trusted the Rays medical machine to help eliminate this tingling sensation and not put off either time or progression to solving the body mystery.

Because it is Cobb’s pitching hand, the Rays took swift and detailed actions to protect one of their budding pitching gems. Cobb never looked like he could establish a consistent rhythm on the mound on Saturday night, and possibly the “needles and pins” sensation might have shown up early in the night. Not going to blame the numbness, but unless Cobb was tipping off his fastball, the Oakland A’s just seemed to fest on it Saturday night.

Still, it was great to see Cobb say something before the matter could have escalated towards a potentially long term injury. Huge praise seriously has to go towards the Rays Medical staff for their due diligence and process of eliminating and evaluating towards finding a cause or effect of the problem.

Pitchers have a limited shelf life normally in baseball. Good news came swiftly after  Porterfield sent Cobb to a local hospital for some more detailed blood tests.  Soon afterwards it was learned that Cobb did not have  a possible blood clot in his arm, which could have been a immediate cause of the numbness. There might be a battery of medical tests in Cobb’s future, but possibly this honest gesture might just be life saving.

Even thought the Rays have put Cobb on the DL, this move could prolong and help discover a possible aliment that is beginning to develop within Cobb. The result could be many more wins, and a long career. It is still amazing to be the torque and pounds per square inch a pitcher puts on his joints and muscles nightly throwing in Major League Baseball.

Injuries happen in a sport where a pitcher throws so much torque and pressure on their pitching arms nightly. By Cobb being upfront and telling the Rays about his discomfort, it might have been a precursor to more Rays wins, and a longer career. Sometime each of us hide small aliments or nicks and pain from our employers, hoping they will just simply go away.

Cobb was in tune with his body’ enough to know something did not add up, and asked for help before it could of escalated or become a more complex problem. It is a great example of a player trusting his gut, and a team listening and help solve a potential setback. Kudos again to Cobb and the Rays staff for both doing the right thing. Hopefully this is just something minor, but if it is not, then it could save more than just Cobb’s career…it could save his life.  

Go-Go’s Took Me to the ’80’s and Back

It was great seeing my old friends, the Go-Go’s perform last night after the Tampa Bay Rays victory. Reason I say “friends” is that this group was at the essence of my 1980’s. They were the group who’s song dominated my cassette players as I cruised down Clearwater Beach as a teen in my convertible 1969 Camaro with my hair swirling and Go-Go’s music dancing in my ears.

Tonight that same wave of emotions, hopes and remembrances danced along with the thousands upon the Trop AstroTurf. From the moment lead singer Belinda Carlise lead the group on stage, dancing, we knew it was going to be an 80’s party to remember…always.

Even with their lead-off song “Vacation”, the girls again took me back to a simpler time in my life as I swayed and grooved to song I knew by heart, and had a special niche in that same pumping vessel. These were the first female musicians to steal my heart. It wasn’t the En Vogue girls, Vixen or even the Supremes, it was this California band that spoke of life in the same parameter path of my own.

But make no mistake, even though Jane Wiedlin probably can’t bounce around like she did before her 2010 ACL accident, the vibe was still the same. It was a festival of fun, frolic and calculated mayhem. Jane still did her swirls, even sporting a silver and black half wig to show her child side is still alive and well.

Karen Valentine is still one of the best bass guitarists in the world and it was fitting the native of Austin, Texas was there to jam out on a day when Jeff Niemann, the Rays Tall Texan dominated. This is a band that has seen its own members go off and do solo and duo projects and still have enough love and admiration for their own collaborated tunes to reunite and again rock it out Cali style.

I was entranced from the first note to their last strum after their encore where Gina Schock, the one East Coast (Baltimore,Md) born Go-Go helped introduce the band while cooling down a bit before the encore. Gina is one of the best drummer you probably have never heard about, but she is the accentual heartbeat and energy stalwart of this band.

Charlotte Caffey is a songwriting muse. Her own life experiences, along with her band mates dominates the Go-Go’s tunes. Her keyboard artistry is above the board. She might not be the most vocal and outgoing of the Go-Go’s girls on stage, but she more than makes up for it in her songwriting and multiple musical talents.

That leaves us with the firecracker herself. Belinda Carlise who has always been the focal point, and have delivered time after time after time. From her dances moves on stage in the middle of songs, to her bellowing vocals and range, the girl has been the glowing icon of the Go-Go girl revolution for a long time. The Cali girl hair might be gone, but she still rocks the follicles as well as our heart strings.

I can seriously not see this band flowing and grooving like it does without this perfected orchestrated 5-some on stage. Pity this might be the last performance ever of the band in Florida, because the Tampa Bay crowd that missed it or left early missed a great example of the California influence and vibe that rock the 80’s from stem to stern.

I have a special place in my heart for the Go-Go’s. They helped me understand women through their songs. Made me joyful when I was in the dumps, and always had the beat to get me again doing “ my thing”. This band started their motion to fame at the same time I was getting out of High School. Their music influenced me, had me dancing in the streets, halls and sometimes the Mall.

If you needed one band to put on a platter to demonstrate the ’80’s, it was these ladies. The Go-Go’s might be 30 years older than the first time I saw them at Bayfront Center. They may even not sit out at the beaches behind the Don CeSar anymore, but they can still take me back, in a heartbeat to days I will never forget. If this is the last time I see these fabulous ladies I can truly hang my head high because they did their thing, they moved the crowd. For that I applaud my old friends, for they made me proud I lived in the era of the Go-Go’s.

Flickr photostream of Go-Go’s photos

Rays Tweet Up Was a Total Success

It is always great when you see a professional sports organization take the budding social media scene into its arms and embraces it, not try to smother it. The perfect example of this was the Tampa Bay Rays first Rays Tweet up held yesterday during the always entertaining Parks and Recreation Day.

Social media has grown into its own monster with instant responses and video that can pop up at any moment of a moment of regret or even a memory to cherish. The Rays front office has taken to the social media community with the @RaysRepublic Twitter page that is as informative as it is comedic.

Got to be honest here, I could not sleep a wink on Wed night thinking about the possibilities and the networking that could evolve out of just hanging with a few fellow Rays Republic members while answering trivia question and eating some great food.

So you know I was there when the doors of Gate1 opened wide, fresh with that awesome 72 degree goodness and quickly went down to see my buddy Bob (Rays Fan Host) who runs the Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe. I was one of the dozen to glide into the green floored party area just a sweat ball away from the Rays Bullpen and the Rightfield line.

Was a good memory as I gazed at my seat just a foot beyond this party area’s wall. Rays pitchers came out early and did some soft toss with Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson beginning the Rays parade of hurlers. As they tossed, the crowd in the party area grew (40 people had bought pre-event tickets) with each dawning their new white Rays Tweet Up customized T-shirt.

Even met a Rays Republic member who is also an organizer of another Tweet Up (FREE) at the Salvador Dali Museum down by the waterfront next Thursday. I know I have plans to go down and participate, hopefully more in the Rays Republic will go and support a great local St. Petersburg and world-wide attraction. 

I decided to take up a seat just beyond the voice range of Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos and Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi. Still seems like I have know Scott forever, and it is great to hear his new son is growing like a weed and in great health.

Even more excited to hear Ramos is feeling tip top after a bit of a upper respiratory aliment that zapped that usual Ramos charisma and Salsa inspired moves. Ramos is truly one of the Rays treasures, with stories and instruction that can be witnessed firsthand at every Rays contest.

Before Rays starter Wade Davis hit the Bullpen mound to warm up, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach (@ShopHouse10) brought over his own personalized Rays Tweet Up T-shirt and I pointed to the girl (@skittykatz ) next to me. She was not a huge Shoppach fan, but you could see in her eyes she was flabbergasted not only did the Rays newest team Twitter supporter bring his shirt, he had signed it.

Thought it was a great gesture and made me more of a Shoppach fan. Great thing about the social media, it can bring guys like Shoppach out in the open so all can see he is a good guy who just loves the game and truly knows the fans are important. For that, I salute you Kelly.

As the game began I spoke for a moment with Rays RP Jake McGee and complimented him on his new velocity and movement on the ball. McGee informed me he had a small mechanical glitch, that he was turning his shoulder inwards too much and it was robbing him of the full pitching motion. Small change to his mechanics, and it is paying huge dividends for the Rays pitching staff.

Each inning @RaysRepublic offered up a trivia question for the group to answer, and I missed the first one, but aced the second question to get my name out of the running for prizes early. Question was what team brought the Rays their highest 3-game attendance figures?”….It was easy, it was the Atlanta Braves in 1998. For my Rays knowledge, I got a signed Matt Joyce baseball already authenticated and in a cube….Sweet!

Everywhere I saw names upon T-shirts I had either known or seen online over the past few months. Smiling faces like @5wa, @savanna, @skittykatz,MarissajustMay, @StrawHatCook and @MandaGator. Even saw old friends @JordiScrubbings, @Lovebees and the WDAE and Rays Radio man in the booth, the always vocal @Steve Carney.

From the free samples of the Trop’s concession stands BurgerUp to Cuban sandwiches to Everglades Smokehouse BBQ nachos, it was a day to remember. I know @skittykat and @savanna after doing some Rays fashionista primping also won signed baseball in the trivia questions (I might have helped a tad).

With extra innings came time for all of us to chat with Rays Television savant Todd Kalas and our speaker of the day @Darrenrovell. I loved the fact Rovell went from table to table talking with the Rays Tweet Up participants, even taking time to chat about the social media concept or just about sports.

Finally the Rays pulled out the “W” with some incredible clutch performances, especially from Rays rookie catcher Honey Nut (Robinson) Chirinos. Speaking of catchers, John Jaso told me he was feeling great and almost ready to go again. It is so wild that in less than 2 seasons, a position we thought was vacant of talent (catching) suddenly has so many up and coming Rays stars.

Was amazing this Emmy Award winning journalist was open, honest and even a bit enlightening to subject, Twitter aids and things going on in the background and on the forefront of the media explosion. Heck Rovell asked if anyone like Google+, and you know I was the only one to raise their hand. Hurt a bit, but they were my in-direct employer for the last 5 months.

As we left the event, the Rays handed each and every one of us a goodie bag that contained a few of the great promotional items that us over 15 years of age would not get normally. I was shocked and pleased to get a DJ Kitty puppet, the Joe Maddon bank, Evan Longoria Gold Glove replica and last but not least, the Johnny Damon mohawked figurine.

This event was a total success, and the Rays front office, especially the promotions and marketing department hit a grand slam on their first attempt of such an event. I know in th next fews day this same department will meet and discuss the event in full.

Hopefully there can be another one planned in the future so other members of the Rays Republic who could not attend today will get a chance to match names, faces and personalities with so many of these great Rays Twitter followers. I am already giddy and the event is not even planned yet.

Here is a Flickr link to my Photostream with an entire album of photos of the event.