September 2011

Maddon One Win Away From His 500th Managerial Victory

One more “W”. One more bit of timely magic by this energetic and explosive Tampa Bay Rays squad and they can celebrate alongside their Manager Joe Maddon on their home AstroTurf as Maddon is but one solo victory away from his 500th Career “W”.

Ironically, tomorrow opponent, the Texas Rangers were also the victims of Maddon’s 400th career win back on August 17, 2010 in this same stadium. Tell me there is not a little extra incentive running within the mind of Rays starter James Shields tonight hoping to place Maddon firmly on that 500 mark in the Rays Labor Day afternoon contest.

Games like this energize an entire club. Knowing you are on the threshold of doing something that has never been accomplished in franchise history, and to a person who has meant so much to this team’s escalation towards the top tier of Major League Baseball. During a 2011 season that many thought this Rays club would struggle to even hit .500, Maddon could post his own “500” by this time tomorrow night.

I posted about this great upcoming event in Maddon’s career earlier this weekend and had a few people send me emails and websites showing Maddon posted a 8-14 record back in 1996 while with the Angels that would vault him past the 500 win plateau. But someone I respect and believe wholeheartedly within the Rays Communications Department found me the proof needed to have this great accomplishment still on the horizon for the Rays Republic.

I am so glad that his 1996 mark doesn’t stand the MLB test of time, but maybe it is better just to let you read it for yourselves. “ Joe’s 8-14 record with the Angels in 1996 does not count toward his career record…his 19-10 record with the Angles in 1999 does count toward his record.  This is because in 1996 he was the interim manager while the current manager had health issues. In 1999 though, he replaced Terry Collins who resigned.

I am so glad I was wrong when I sent a email to the Rays Communication Department after a few of you showed me evidence that Maddon could have sped past the 500th win mark, and even more excited to see Maddon had not moved past this important milestone in his managerial career.

I can honestly say with no reservations that when Maddon was originally hired by the Rays back on November 15,2005, I truly did not see this type of fantastic escalation in this club’s win totals in such a short amount of time. Maddon truly has embodied and emerged himself into his “Rays Way” mantra, and the Rays Republic has been able to enjoy the view from the passenger seat.

So Maddon “officially” tonight stands at a respectable 499-479 for his managerial career. including a 480-469 Rays all time franchise record over his 6 seasons with the team. I am extremely glad now that Maddon is the longest tenured and winningest Rays Manager in franchise history, but also that only 6 other MLB Manager have held their positions longer than Maddon.

Since Maddon’s arrival and first victory ( 2-0 ) back in Baltimore on April 6, 2006 we have seen tremendous players mature and grow within the Rays ranks. We have celebrated triumphs beyond our imaginations like a World Series romp in 2008, and felt the stabbing pain of defeat less than a year ago to this same Rangers team in the American League Championship Series. But I would not have missed it for the World.

Has it really only been 5 seasons removed from the last time we posted a 100-loss season ( 2006) and Maddon has changed not only the mindset of this team, but of its fans all around the country. Once the laughingstocks of the American League, Maddon has been one of the key architects to rebuilding this Rays franchise from the clubhouse to the field.

Maddon might not garner any votes outside of Tampa Bay for the 2011 AL Manager of the Year balloting, but think of what everyone else in the country had predicted for this Rays team and you will see Maddon has patched, glued and energized a team that was not thought to even have a chance at being competitive in 2011. Considering the way this team got out of the gate in 2011 at home going 0-ever, the job Maddon has done deserves a long round of applause.

With the next Rays victory Maddon will embark on writing another unique chapter in his managerial history. When Maddon and his Rays begin to race out of the dugout to celebrate upon the turf after the next Rays victory, just as “Johnny Bravo” announces loud and proud to the assembled Rays Republic another Rays victory, hopefully they will be surrounded by a sea of applause and celebration.

500 is a huge number. For some odd reason I think Maddon will downplay the importance of the event as the Rays try and rally towards a post season berth, but inside I know it will mean the world to the Rays skipper if we are all on our feet and celebrate it with him. I know I plan on screaming my lungs out and clapping until my hands hurt….for the best Manager in baseball as he moves past another monumental milestone. 

Shoppach Finally Won Me Over

Not sure why it took me so long to see this “other side” of Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. Most just get to see that focused and persistent of his Rays game day persona on the diamond where achieving positive results are warranted and his emotional outbursts tend to be genuine to a fault. Not sure why I held a wall up towards Shoppach, not wanting to really know this guy.

It is true I wasn’t a firm member of the Shoppach admiration society when Shoppach first came to the Rays from the Cleveland Indians. I somehow initially considered him a retread version of former Rays disgruntled employee Dioner Navarro. You know, good behind the dish but mediocre standing at it.

Maybe it was his Red Sox past that kept me from seeing him in any hint of early positive light. Possibly I mis-labeled his game day intensity and focus as arrogance and bit of a conceit instead of their true intentions. Got to admit now, I wasted a lot of time avoiding this guy like the plague when I should been open to seeing his true colors.

Over the past month or so I have gotten to see a different side of Shoppach. Not from personal one-on-one conversations over a Vente cup of Starbucks brew, or even on the Rays sidelines. The avenues that opened my mind towards Shoppach was his muses and 140-character visions Shoppach displayed daily on the social media site Twitter.

If it wasn’t for his Twitter handle @ShopHouse10, I would not have known about his deep seeded Starbucks daily obsession, or his love for his old Alma Mater, Baylor University. Maybe that is what bonded me finally to Shoppach, his love for the Baylor Bears. That was the college squad I last played for before taking my next step in my football career, and I hold my moments in Waco,Texas very close to my heart.

Or maybe it was his selfless actions pre-game before the Rays first “Tweet Up” when Shoppach made a point to stroll down to the Rays Bullpen with his own personalized Rays Tweet In T-shirt nestled above his glove complete with his signature in black Sharpie. Shoppach walked over and I almost took the t-shirt, but did the Southern guy thing and made sure the girl next to me got the new found treasure.

It was a grand gesture that finally opened my eyes and mind to the honest fact that Shoppach is truly a “Good old Boy” at heart, and someone I had misjudged. Even though the first day Shoppach wrote on Twitter I made sure to re-tweet his new handle and promote a new Ray on Twitter, that moment instantly made me a Shoppach fan.

Maybe I should have known that Shoppach had those Texas traits embodied in him as I had transfused into me those 2 years in Waco. Possibly his 2010 walk-up song “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean should have awoken me, but that small but grand gesture that afternoon sealed the deal for me.

Heck, I take my cap off to Shoppach, not a lot of Rays players who boast Twitter accounts came down there that afternoon to socialize with the “Rays Tweet Family”, but Shoppach made a point to show his support, even though Shoppach was starting behind the plate that day. Pity it took me this long to see this real side of Shoppach.

Especially since these last handful of home games might be the last time I get to holler towards him as a member of the Rays. Shoppach is one of the three Rays who have pending 2012 club options that will be addressed by the Rays front office after this season. All signs point towards the Rays declining this club option considering the recent bevy of young backstops showing their skills and prowess in 2011. Shoppach’s days are surely numbered with the Rays.

But that is the nature of the business side of baseball. Sometimes you just start to see someone true abilities and intentions and they are gone. But this brief recent discovery of Shoppach’s other side will keep me checking in on him no matter where he puts his glove in 2012.

I have found a player who I can respect both on and off the field for his comments, efforts and his beliefs. Keep posting those great 140-character glimpses into your mind, I am eager to get to know a little more about @ShopHouse10 every day. By the way, I agree with your Twitter follower @LeeBarlett, Starbucks should have a local Tampa Bay confection for the rest of 2011 called the Caffe Vanilla Shopalatte….just sayin.

Rays On Verge of 1,000th All-Time Rays Win Milestone Mark

Holy Moly. Can you believe that during this Tampa Bay Rays home stand we will see more than one special moment in Rays franchise history. Still hard to believe we have been playing this game under the dome for almost 14 Major League Baseball seasons, and it all will boil down to this 9-game home stand where celebrations could be a plenty.

The Rays franchise only needs 4 “W’s” in this home stand to post the 1,000th career victory in the Rays short franchise history. How amazing is it that this event could actually happened during the Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox visit to the old Trop. During this coming week/weekend (I am betting Texas).

How ironic would it be to put that 1,000th win on the Rangers, who also share another special piece of Rays history. Back on August 19, 2005 when the Rangers came a-courtin’ to the Trop, D-Rays starter Seth McClung went 7 innings and surrendered only 3 hits, then Danys Baez came on for his 27th save of the season to give the D-Rays their 500th all time “W”. How fitting that the same Rangers franchise might also fall victim to the Rays 1,000th.

Hitting this magical 1,000th win mark would be a triumph to the persistence and patience this franchise and its fan has emulated ever since that first scream over the airwaves that signaled the Rays first step into the winning column. From the Rays first win to their 500th All-Time, it took the franchise 7 3/4 MLB seasons to get to that winning milestone. From their 500th Rays win to their upcoming 1,000th, this franchise who had begun to get a healthy taste of winning will eclipse that next plateau on Rays victory lore in less than 6 seasons.

Can you still believe Maddon has done such an amazing job considering the Rays were a combined 518-775 (.401 winning percentage) before his hiring on November 15, 2005. Since that moment only 6 other MLB Manager have held their jobs longer, and Maddon has produced a 478-468 ( .505 winning percentage) mark in his tenure.

Over the course of this current 9-game Rays home stand at Tropicana Field both the Rays franchise and their most productive Manager in club history will both have a solid chance to celebrate significant milestones with the home crowd. Ironically, the Rays and Maddon will have a chance to post those victories on the Rangers (there that symbolic name again) who also provided Maddon with his 400th All-Time Managerial win back on August 17,2010.

I hope all in attendance will be alerted to the significance of both these tremendous events that will warrant not only a stadium-wide standing round of applause, but should go on until both Maddon and his squad come out for a celebratory curtain call. I know I will be on my feet celebrating and shouting to the Trop’s cupola celebrating another defining and monumental moment in the Rays history. I truly hope you are there too to take in all the noise and emotions of the moment.

Rays Ready For a 30-Day Battle

Something tells me this is going to be a long 30 days for the Tampa Bay Rays as they march towards determining their post season fate. Little voice in the back of my head is telling me that this surge of the Tampa Bay Rays towards their third possible slot in the post season in 4 seasons might have a few unforeseen surprises, and a chance for them to ambush their opponents who underestimate this young Rays brigade.

Hope the Rays clubhouse leadership can firmly make their comrades aware of the many pitfalls and land mines still hidden from their view on their quest. Some around baseball have said this Rays aggressive march could end up be a suicide mission, that every member of this team will have to leave everything they have within themselves nightly out on that diamond fighting tooth and nail to their last swing or toss to bring about October glory again.

The Rays still have enough games against the New York Yankees (6 games) and Boston Red Sox (7 games) to make their September campaign work to their advantages. This well thought out and aggressive maneuvering of Rays Field General Joe Maddon is going to encounter a few incredibly steep inclines with a slippery and icy slope. In other words, it is not going to be a walk in the park if the Rays want to celebrate in October.

This same Rays squad has shown this season they are up for the challenge, and have succeeded when their backs have been against the wall. That kind of mental toughness and commitment could be instrumental over the coming weeks, especially when the darkening shadows try to overtake Tropicana Field during their 15 home contests.

If the Rays want to truly make it into those meaningful games in October, they will have to earned it with sweat, hustle and a little hemoglobin upon the AstroTurf. Not trying to throw a irrepressible dark cloud upon the Rays march towards October, but there might be a few things  the Rays Republic might want to consider before buying your celebration champagne.

The Rays have an all time record of 133-209 or a less than joyful .389 winning percentage during the month of September. To put an even bigger haze on the prize, September has been the Rays worst month to garner wins in the franchise’s short history. In their previous 13 Major League Baseball campaigns, the Rays have never even hoisted a single “W” above the .500 mark for the month.

The only other times the Rays have even come close to the “even-Stephen” mark was during their two previous romps towards the post season. In 2008 and 2010 the Rays had to post 13-14 marks during the month to even get a chance to celebrate along with the fans.

But it will take a few lucky breaks, a 4-leaf clover or two, and possibly each and every member of the Rays Republic frantically rubbing their rabbit’s foot to get the Baseball Gods into letting this same Rays team parade into the October sunlight. Considering how they started their  2011 season, this would be a colossial achievement for this team. Some have already said it will take a perfect storm, a universally aligned divine intervention for the Rays to stay above that .500 horizon during this grand march towards their 2011 destiny. Doubters beware of the Rays magic.

There are only 26 Rays contests left in 2011, and  with the Rays squad hovering between 7.5 and 9 game back of their Northern rivals, defying their past September history would be an epic achievement. The Rays still have 13 games against the 2 teams above them in the AL East, and these same rivals have 4 more battles between themselves that could make the AL East standings a little more interesting come the final weeks of the season.

By the conclusion of the Rays and Red Sox 4-game battle ending on September 11th, the Rays should have a more realistic view of their fate, destiny and dreams. It is going to be a rough road as the Rays battle their own AL East members during 22 of their final 26 contests, even playing host to the always aggressive Texas Rangers for a late season 4-pack. Road doesn’t get easier for the Rays, but that is what good teams do…Win when they are suppose to lose.

To say this is an extreme uphill climb would be diminishing its full effect and intensity. We all know that this Rays team has pulled more than its share of magic out of their caps this season, especially during the last few home stands. With 15 of their final 26 contests at home, the Rays have a chance to firmly determine their march towards their goal of meaningful October games.

Rays Republic got to experience that “Magical Season” in 2008, and again revel in the madness and celebration with another AL East title in 2010. This final push for the Rays will decide more than just their fate in October, it could be the last time a few of the Rays players ever  have a chance to play as a team on the Trop’s turf.  26 chances in the next 30 days to survive and play again in October. I am beginning to like the Rays odds.

The mission will be tough, but somewhere deep within me I know this is also a team that strives to be the underdog, enjoys being overlooked by their opponents. This is a team hungry to again win the battle before embarking on an October war. Who knows, if the Rays are successful in this campaign maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon will wear a military helmet into a post game Press Conference. Maddon might even quote General George Patton or Sun Tzu. Either way, it is time for the Rays to suit up because their 30-day campaign begins today with full gear with October on the horizon.