April 2012

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

Definitely One to Forget in 30 Minutes

Figures this kind of horror would unfold on a day like Friday the 13th giving the Tampa Bay Rays another game to drop into the loss column, hoping a bout of sudden amnesia makes us all forget this lopsided horror fest that was bestowed upon the Rays today. This is the kind of game that makes your stomach turn and your brain fry for trying to find positives among the carnage, find something good to build upon going into another 3-straight afternoon scrambles with the Boston Red Sox.

This is definitely one of those Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “30 minutes and forget the loss” moments, even in the close confines of the Rays visiting Boston clubhouse. But there is seriously no reason to fret, no re-occurring bouts of worry or hysterical platitudes to describe this game. We have to let it go, watch it fly away and stomp on it if it tries to again darken our doors. Every season the Rays have a game early on in the season that makes you doubt yourself for a second, then you remember it is only 1 of 162. Last season it was the entire month of April, but I think you get my drift here.

With this being the Rays 15th season, there have been more than 15 of these games that rip our beating hearts out and get served to us to digest with angst and worry each year. This one unfortunately happen early on, and with a rival we have to subdue to again quench our October champagne thirst.

Sure it’s Friday the 13th, but it was also the Rays 7th game of the season. Guess even the pondering of lucky numbers against hidden evil intended numbers did not match-up in the Rays favor today. Maybe Wade Davis forgot to rub his lucky rabbit’s foot ( you know he’s got one…somewhere). Going into the contest I had a good vibe knowing the Rays were sending old lucky 2×7 (double lucky?) or pitcher David Price (#14) to the hill for the Boston home opener. Thought he might be our double-dose of a potential Rays good luck charm, our defender from these kinds of evil scores, but alas the sleeping evil beast that can be the Red Sox awoken and bite Price firmly in his box score.

Sure it is one contest, 1/162th of a season, but this one will hurt for a while. But sometimes evil things happen to good teams. Momentum can switch, be caught in the wrong cycle and spin out of control making the good and bad intertwine, changing all aspects of fortunes and re-distributing lucky bounces and odd hops to even the most disciplined defenses. Losing is never a fun thing to watch. It cuts into us deep because we feel we have the tools and arsenal to win every night but sometimes good intentions, luck and even the best frame of mind can fail anyone.

Well, it has been 20 minutes, time to forget this one and move onto tomorrow. Hmm, maybe Maddon has something here, I’m starting to feel a bit better.

4 Years and Counting for Our Favorite Dirtbag

It already seems like a perfect day in Detroit. Sun is warming, the breeze is cool and breaks the sun’s intensity, Rays Television savant Todd Kalas is riding a Tiger, then we get the added bonus of knowing Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria get to celebrate another anniversary in the bigs. Even more curious is the fact the Rays are playing their getaway game in the afternoon, so the team could be on the ground in Boston by late dinner time for an impromptu Longo hootenanny in beantown.

Seems fitting that Longo could enjoy himself in the borough where he once had men grinding their teeth at the mention of his name for his bachelor ways of procuring digits and calling wayward female Bostonians. Sure that is all a rumor (cough, cough) or at least a great MLB urban legend. But what do you get the guy as a gift?

Seriously, the guy probably has one or two of everything. He has a cherry Camaro RS, a hot ex-Playboy Playmate bit of arm candy, a cooler full of icy Red Bull for the rest of his life, plus a team that he fits into like a glove both as a leader and as a symbolic keystone to this franchise’s rise. Anything Longo does makes the press from his hat getting stolen via a New Era commercial, to front covers of video games, Topps and Heritage card packages, plus he already has enough MLB swag to open his own memorabilia shop and make a cool mil or two. It boggles the mind how far Longo has gone in 1,460 days.

Where would the Rays be without their solid figure at the “hot corner” who not only has won Silver (Slugger) and Gold (Gloves), but in his rookie season was the Fan’s American League Final Vote selection to the All-Star Game. From his first 2008 appearance against the Baltimore Orioles at home in front of 19,295 screaming fans, Longoria picked up his first hit and RBI as a Ray. Even thought the Rays lost Longo’s initial contest 3-2, the Rays knew after that game they had finally found a player who could help mold a new future for the franchise.

Longo will have played in 280 MLB games when he boards the Rays charter flight to Boston later this afternoon. In that span he has gone from the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 2008 to a MLB legend with his feats during Game 162 of the Rays 2011 season. All of this in 4 seasons. Remarkable is too small a word for it all. Consider for a second during that span Longo has blasted 114 regular season HR, 405 RBI and 148 2-baggers added onto your ever-growing MLB resume`.

Not only has Longoria become a bit of a icon on his Twitter account known throughout MLB, with every Longo round tripper in 2012, the Pet Pal Animal Shelter will receive a $ 100 donation from Brighthouse and the Rays. Seems Longo is now branching out to his canine fans within Tampa Bay too. Seriously, what do you get a guy who has received the highest accolades in his short career, has a community counting on him with his glove and bat, plus seeing his smiling mug on media sources from radio, television to photos during and after the MLB season.

Maybe I should call ahead to the Oyster House where I think Longo will get his first supper in Boston tonight and order the largest Monstah Lobstah they got and have it presented to him. Or maybe I will give him some special and from the heart…. Maybe I will pop that last bottle of Mumm’s 2008 celebratory champagne, pour a little out on my old Trop Field Turf on my porch and give Longo a 5-minute standing ovation as a salute to the short but incredibly productive career of my favorite Dirtbag.

Yeah, that’s would be mighty special. Happy Anniversary Longo!

Great Lakes Give Moore the Cold Shoulder

Weather effects everyone differently. Some players crave the chill factors that dip towards the freezing point while others bundle up tighter almost resembling the Michelin Man as they wrap their bodies in an extra cocoon of thermal goodness with only parts of their face visible. I bet Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Matt Moore would have loved to resemble the Michelin Man instead of standing on the hill in Comerica Park as the Great Lakes gave their own brand of home-frigid advantage.

The Detroit Tigers pitching staff have become a bit acclimated to the possibilities of a early season revisit of Winter in early April. They have come to relish and welcome the chilly breeze that can potentially make their opposition’s fingers feel frozen at the tips thereby losing a touch of feeling the ball as it leaves your hand thereby hurling the ball more in a “mechanical movement” than by physical touch.

I can definitely see the aspects of a frigid Detroit weather dealing Moore a rude awakening possibly playing into his noticeable control and velocity problems. Moore could only add a few MLB allowable accessories like a thermal undershirt with limited pitching sleeve length, a MLB-issued, not the”Elmer Fudd” style Rays cap with warming ear flaps. Hopefully Moore got a tad of added warmth from a pair of thermal long johns under his uniform. But Moore shunned the Fudd accessory.

But even with these heating elements, the temperature game can get into your head quickly and will not leave, even with a bit of warmth while sitting in the dugout. This type of weather definitely plays with your mind both physically and mentally. It can quickly take a bite of your planned mode of attack, especially if you are thinking more about the chilling wind whipping past your skin and not the hitter standing warm in the batter’s box.

When temperatures begin to sit around in the 40’s, the slightest increase in wind can cut across your exposed face like a sharp knife, effectively taking you out of your game mode and you subconsciously begin to think about the chills, the aches, the feeling of muscle tightening even as you await the signs from your catcher and you might begin to worry a bit more about your fingertips circulation. That can lead to throwing the ball instead of pitching it to the plate as the fingertips lose a bit of feeling and you begin to lose a bit of control or velocity for fear of giving up a Home Run or possibly hitting a batter.

Not sure if this happened to Moore, but if it did, it would explain a lot of what happened to him during his daytime start on Tuesday. It has happened to many a ballplayer before Moore, and will happen to plenty in the future. It is just a facet of the game that rears its head this time of the year in the Northern core cities and you have to adjust to it or it overtakes you and you make costly mistakes. I know from just watching Moore face during the game on camera, his mind did flutter back and forth a few times, possibly after a chill went up his pant leg or up his exposed arm. But he hung in there, grinned and wore it like a trooper and got valuable knowledge for the future.

It was also Moore’s first start of the season, and there is nothing to worry about, he overcame the plight and will be eager for his next time to take the mound. The factors of Moore’s abnormal start could have been a mixture of the chills, the anxious nature of his first 2012 start, or just an unfortunate blip due to weather on Moore’s radar.

Whatever the case, it is past, Moore is healthy and we move on to warmer venues for his next start…hopefully. When you hold Spring Training in areas with the core temperatures switching between 60-80 degrees, then add the factor that you play your home contests in 72 degree splendor, biting lower temps have a way of getting into your mindset, even when you sit on the bench wrapped like an MLB mummy between innings.

Chalk this up as a “needed” experience that Moore can put into his memory banks and use as fodder to prep for if the same scenario rises in the future. No amount of coffee, hot chocolate or heated Gatorade can overcome the rips of icy wind that cross your face while you are standing alone on the hill. It is a part of the game that is older than all of us, and will dictate game outcomes long after we leave this Earth.

Moore will be fine, I think he has banked and processed the moment and is more than ready to face the aspects of playing during extreme temperature differences, possibly hitting the mound with a demeanor as cool as a cucumber next time.


Daytime Games Seem to Crimp our Style

I am beginning to think some of us have become very spoiled when this team hits the road. We seem to fall apart at the seams, a daytime contests suddenly sending some of us into the dizzy spiral as we pant and pacing the store aisles like mad men/women looking for a miniature AM radio we can hide within our work uniform so we can stay abreast of the game.

How unthoughtful of Major League Baseball to burden us with the anxious moments during the Tampa Bay Rays first road trip of the season which will feature 7-straight daytime contests right up until the Rays hit Canada for the first time on April 17th. Sure it might put some of us in the Rays Republic into a lather because of the discomfort of leaning over while driving hoping someone has the game on their radio, or draining our cellphone battery quickly as we keep MLB At Bat running until the games conclusion. But it is a small price to pay over a 162-game season.

Sure it might seem to the naked eye visually scanning the schedule that it favors the Boston Red Sox in our first journey into Fenway Park in 2012, but the Rays are the guests during the Red Sox’s Opening Day festivities on Friday (2:05 pm), a Nationally televised contest on Saturday (4:05 pm) plus have the pleasure/ displeasure of being in beantown for the Sunday’s Boston Marathon and its annual day contest (1:35 pm) as well as Monday’s Patriot Day (11:35 am) getaway game.

Of course sandwiched between now and the Boston series is a bit of cold and dreary weather as the Rays visit Motown and the Tigers for 3 -straight 1:05pm contests that could have everything from snow flurries to possible temps ranging from the 40’s to mid-50’s by Thursday afternoon. Looking at the forecast, the Rays will miss the potential for rain that will sweep in late Friday and Saturday, so they got that going for them.

But seriously, does 7-days of shifting our priorities, trying to stay abreast of scores or moonshots while doing our daily duties really fluster us this much? I mean for the Rays, it has to be a bit of a great thing as they can still keep to their usual Spring Training routines without having to break from the routine until they hit Canada next Monday night in advance of Tuesday first road night contest. Makes it easier for guys to make plans, do errands, possibly do some sightseeing and dinner arrangements, plus keeps them on a schedule they have been perfecting since mid-February.

So just because we have a bit of adjusting to do to hear, watch or even catch a glimpse of games during this 7-game contests in the Sun movement, remember it is only the first Rays road trip and considering we have 80 games left on the road, this is a small inconvenience I think we all can live with. Think of it as an early precursor to the pains we all will experience as the Rays have a 19 games in 20 days just after the conclusion of the All-Star break which includes a 6-game (July 27-Aug. 1st) West Coast journey to Anaheim and Oakland…with a hodge-podge of afternoon (3:35 pm) and late night (10:05 pm) start times. Kind of makes the day time game bearable…right?

Rays Wolverine has Encounter With Mr Hammy.

I was going to start this post today saying something like “ who cares if he has a jacked-up Hugh Jackman ‘ Wolverine’ facial recognition, as long as Tampa Bay Rays new DH Luke Scott keep producing like this. Heck, his unique beard styling might become the 2012 Summer facial accessory around Tampa Bay”.

Just as quickly as I typed in that snippet, I gazed down and noticed Rays rookie Stephen Vogt coming out onto the On-Deck Circle with Scott nowhere in sight as a scanned the dugout bench. Got to admit, it instantly freaked me out to the core having known the cursed history the Rays have endured with their past DH malfunctions. Seeing someone replaced this early in a ballgame is not ever a good sign.

So leave it to the always repressed and lying in wait “Mr. Hammy” to take a hold of Scott’s hind quarters and jerk on it like it was a banana waiting to be peeled. Could Scott be the latest victim of the mystery plague that seems to descend upon players who man the Rays DH position?

Hamstring injuries have a way of being unpredictable especially in positions where you come into a contest a bit cold and not firmly stretched out after sitting for a bit, then are called into producing energy and motion again without a suitable warm-up session. The DH spot definitely calls into play constant movement and keeping the body limber and ready for anything, but injuries like this can still produce even with all the preventions.

We now know Scott will be considered day-to-day for at least the upcoming road trip to Detroit and Boston. We all knew going into 2012 that Scott came with a warning label, but we thought it might pertain more to his vocal comments than a lingering shoulder aliment…or worse.

From Paul Sorrento to Luke Scott, getting posted up as the Rays DH has materialized into a quasi-death sentence either for your Rays batting average or unexpected injuries. With Scott coming out of the contest after 1 at bat with a sore hamstring, could the Rays past DH cursed conundrum of complications be gaining momentum, gaining steam quickly, elevating itself to mid-season level.

The way Scott performed on Saturday stroking the ball and driving in runs, it felt like the first time since the departure of old Rays wild child Jonny Gomes that the Rays DH position might have the ability to make a significant difference in terms of the Rays inconsistent offensive woes. I truly thought, even with 2 games into the season, Scott might just take this dastardly curse and break it over his knee sending it away for good.

Maybe it will take days tender rest and rehabilitation before Scott can again embark into his pseudo-Rays superhero alter ego and begin to bring change the Rays DH status quo. Maybe Scott wearing a “Wolverine”-style beard could end up being a good thing. Superheroes tend to have that resilient quality to overcome adversity and beam confidently as they always seem to triumph in the end.  First, Scott has to defeat the improbable and unrelenting Mr Hammy.


El Presidente’ Again Has Our Hearts

He is one of the most beloved player to ever strapped on a Rays uniform. Beloved as much for the deeds and efforts he displays on the field as those done within the Tampa Bay community. Maybe it seems fitting with the 2012 Republican National Convention coming to Tampa this Summer, El Presidente aka Carlos Pena could easily run for President and could easily win everywhere but possibly within the 5 boroughs of New York today.

Can anyone else remember a Rays moment when we ever gave 5 standing ovations, and not just to a single player. You read that right, 5 times Pena heard the 30,000+ wedged into the tilted cap of the Trop call for him, cheer for him, wanting him to hear and acknowledge their spirited roar. Pena not only took a “curtain call” after his memorable grand salami off New York Yankee starter CC Sabathia. But who would of expected his final action on this day would not only returned the favor, but burst out a resounding and almost fantasy storyline to the already volume of stories that is the “Legend of ‘Los”.

There will be some in the Yankee fan-dom that will say Pena just “ bent into a few bad pitches”, but those same white spheres came from anointed Yankee legendary figures. Pena’s grand slam off Sabathia was the first one ever given up to a left-hander in his long career. Mariano Rivera who might be canonized and made a NYC saint someday was going for save # 604 before Pena deposited the deep shot to Left-Centerfield that sent this stadium into a frenzy akin to Game 162.

Not a single Yankee fan will ever acknowledge this but the insane sound of the ball off Pena’s bat yesterday sent New York Yankee hearts sinking while a whole stadium instantly again fell back in love with him, almost like he never took a 180 day vacation to Chi-town.

After the game Pena “ did his dance” during the Rays 15-minute celebration phase of their 30-minutes and move on “Rays Way” pattern, but something tells me this showcase, this performance that enlightened showed why the Rays Republic has always. Wilder still this was only the 1st act of an 162 act play. I swear it could not have been scripted any better (even by Disney) or played out with any more emotional tugs and pulls during the contest then without warning, Pena simply reached back into all of our hearts and started it beating akin to his own unique rhythm.

It seemed ironic that the same day we hoisted a banner to the rafters showing our pride for 2011 magic, Pena reminded us of what seemed missing last season. Somehow with 2 mighty swings yesterday Pena choreographed the Rays dugout back into his old Salsa groove. From Home Plate to the far reaches of the TBT Deck, on this Opening Day triumphant moment not lost in the excitement was the re-discovery of why we love El Presidente’. May his reign be supreme and his subjects filled with joy. Welcome back ‘Los.

Welcome Back Baseball, I Really Missed You

So as we begin the journey on Day 1 of a whirlwind 180-day Major League Baseball adventure that will wind and spiral through the pits and summits of another season of baseball, nothing feels better right now than the warm embrace and joyful noise the Rays Republic has bestowed on our Tampa Bay Rays, even before the line-ups have been announced. No matter if you are wearing pinstripes or that shining Rays sunburst, baseball is back, and it is simply a grand and glorious day.

I have had the honor of witnessing 15 Opening Day celebrations with the Rays, and something tells me this one, the 15th season, will produce more thrills, occasional spills and a great surprise. From the vibrations that seem to be rocking the fabric of the Trop today, I have a feeling the Rays might just make it to a hallowed November date.

From an MLB schedule that reads more like an endurance racer’s worst nightmare, to the tears of joy and accomplishment as the Rays players help hoist another banner into the Trop’s rafters, baseball again graces this side of the Sunshine State, and the light beaming from both young and old Rays Republicans smiles tells us special thing await this team. Sure I might wax poetic today, but that is what pomp and circumstance is all about. To show the grace of the moment as well as salute what is in front of you as well as what struggles you have successfully completed and set aside.

Way before the Rays and Yankees take their spots along the foul lines, even before DJ Kitty and Raymond delight the assembled sell-out crowd, the atmosphere and positive vibes simple set this place a wash in an orange glow. Even before Rays fans and staffers man the huge flag that will almost stretch from foul pole-to-foul pole, the unification of baseball love in this community is evident, and should be noted. Today is a multiple celebration of honoring the past by hoisting another banner, while the 2012 Rays squad sits with pen in hand to write their own historic events and chapters throughout these 180 days.

For so long this Winter we all were anxious and wanting of the warm embrace and comfort the game gives us internally. Distractions like the Rays future stadium, political and legal ramblings that boggle the mind and heart issues, plus a boatload of possible Rays roster additions and subtraction that seemed to pout our heads and hearts into a blend destined for the puree cycle clouded our judgments and opinions, but today we are free again to openly confess our love for this great game, and it all starts with a child saying those immortal words….”Play Ball!”

Got to hurry up and go see a man about a foot long. Welcome back baseball, hope you stay around longer this season.


While Miami Celebrates, Tampa Bay Sits Wondering

I was visibly upset last night as I watched the Miami Marlins open their new state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium. It seemed like the journey for new baseball digs in our state started between our two respective teams about the same time. Where the Marlins have found favorable loopholes and provisional political help, the Tampa Bay Rays gave into a small local based group that did not have the votes to condemn their project or a Mayor who played the legal card much to the scoffs and chagrin of all involved.

Maybe I am a bit overly jealous that the Miami community and the (then Florida) Marlins found a way to fortify financially and as a unified community and get their alabaster white monument completed and looking simply amazing even before the Rays break ground on their own casa. I truly envy the South Florida community for getting things done, proving that baseball deserves to be in this great state at its highest level, and providing new and innovative fun for their fan base and (hopefully) promote a emphasis of growth for a future Rays home.

Of course my mood is irritated largely by the honest fact I still believe the Tampa Bay Rays could of/should of had their own “christening” in 2012. Over the last 4 seasons the plight of a future Rays home has eroded and been a  huge community sore spot, but that was not always the case.

I remember standing in Centerfield of Progress Energy Field at the end of the Rays 2008 Spring Training home schedule straddling the make-shift proposed batter’s box and imagining Carlos Pena taking a looping swing into an invisible breaking ball that would eventually disappear into afterglow of the distant Pier.

I was excited and glad to be among the crowd when Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg stood at a podium downtown and announced the future home of the Rays would be nestled among the glass masterpieces growing skyward in the St. Petersburg, Florida downtown and would feature a radically designed sail roof designs and the emphasis for a vibrant and renewed nightlife in this sleepy hamlet.

This was about the same time the South Florida region began their own journey towards building a new fish tank for the Marlins with emmenities and features unheard of in a baseball stadium.

I was extremely envious last night as the television crews spoke of the special touches in and around the new Miami digs. The Bobblehead Museum idea was so awesome it still makes me chuckle. The fish tank behind Home Plate where people sitting in those expensive seats can thrust their camera phones or Canon lenses up close to the tropical fish and snap off a photo through the glass getting a special “up-close and personal photo op with their favorite Marlin as he strides towards the batter’s box.

Dang you POWW for your “David versus Goliath” moment making Sternberg cave and pull the entire downtown stadium and Tropicana Field redevelopment project off the table, sail and all to be stuffed into some darkened Trop. cubbyhole possibly forever. I was a part of the “Let’s Build the Ballpark” movement that never could get firm traction to move the POWW machine into a deep pothole. Even today we are as close to a new stadium now as we were in 2008, and that is totally disheartening. If the stadium proposal had even gotten to a city-wide vote…well you know which lever I would have pulled.

It especially bothers me that the Marlins will have a chance to host an future All-Star Game now while the Rays know in their present home, the event will never materialize. The only joy I had last night was knowing the rest of the Nation did not have a chance to laugh and put down this state while watching that fluorescent circus act the Marlins are calling a Home Run Celebration nestled above Centerfield.

I am tired of the Rays current “wait and see” attitude. After seeing “what could have been”, it is time to thump out “what could be” and get at least a iota of forward motion towards Tampa Bay having their own National moment at their own new pristine baseball palace. Unfortunately I think when the ball stopped rolling in 2008, the Rays lost all momentum and motion towards finding a solution. The stadium presently is like a sailboat with no wind, destined to sit idle until the seaward winds kick up.

I got to see Marlins Park under construction in 2011 when I was in the area transporting cars for Google.  Boggles the mind this stadium is completed and the Tampa Bay facility is not even on the proverbial drawing board. I sit here watching the roof peeled back like a sardine can with a glimpse of the moon looking in and throughly wishing it was nestled along the waterfront of St. Petersburg.

I am not totally cruel tonight. I do applaud the Marlins and their ownership for building a facility that makes so many of the grand baseball stadiums built over the last 15 years tremble with the interesting technology innovations and fan-based treats nestled beneath the stadium’s glistening white retractable roof. I know there were hard decisions, rough moments surrounding the planning, building and primping of this space, but all has turned out simply magnificent. The Miami region radiated a glow into downtown sky accented by the open roof and the light flowing out into the warm Florida air.

Meanwhile in downtown St. Petersburg a tract of land once deemed the future home of the Rays stadium sits darkened and decaying. The Rays stadium movement seems stalled in the sugar sands of the local political arena, washing away any realization or hope of a new Rays stadium within the next 5-7 years….if ever. But tonight another region, who started their own quest for a new stadium gets to drink in the National praise and good tidings. If the presentation of the new Miami facility doesn’t stir the Rays punchbowl enough to get some Rays stadium momentum stirring, maybe nothing will.

Rays Shortstop Trio Could Become the Gems of the Diamond

For awhile this Spring I was beginning to wonder and a bit concerned that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to pick his daily starter at short based on a Clubhouse game of musical chairs. Even worse, he might come up with a blind choice game of I-Pod musical roulette to decide his daily choice. I could imagine hearing “Glory Days” by the Boss playing loud in the Manager’s Office as Maddon opens the door and scribbles Elliot Johnson’s name on the line-up board. Thank goodness that is not going to happen….for now.

Even that kind of insane and luck-based playing system is a testament to the great underlying potential and great ability the Rays trio of SS candidates have in their singular arsenals heading into Opening Day. I do not remember another segment of Rays players who will make up the mercenaries of the middle who had as much ability and downright potential to shine bright and become the unforeseen gems of the Rays diamond this season. It been quite a while since the middle of the Rays infield has had this source of considerable true talent and strength pushing this position into forming an unbreakable backbone for this team.

Not since the departure of former Rays All-Star Jason Bartlett has the number 6 spot had as much experience, potential for greatness and have bona fide momentum changing abilities at their disposal. Literally the Rays middle infield could become a place where hit balls go to die. Just the thought of increased chances at put-outs, double play combinations and the speed and agility of this trio boggles the imagination. Possibly we could see the “pitcher’s best friend”, the 6-4-3 Double Play become an intricate part of the winning combination this season.

We “officially” know that Maddon might be playing a bit more Salsa tunes on his I-pod as Sean Rodriguez has received the first nod from Maddon has the Rays “main man in the middle” for Opening Day. It is a well-earned spot for S-Rod as he knew coming into the Spring the job was open and a good, consistent Spring could net him this desired spot. But do not discount the possibilities of Johnson and Reid Brignac forcing Maddon’s hand at time with streaks of their own, or defensive gems that could get them additional starts and chances to shine brighter and brighter.

Maddon has said this will not be a platoon-based middle infield, but I think it is way too early to dictate that with clarity considering all 3 of these players could start somewhere among the 30 MLB teams. I truly consider the present Rays trio to possess the offensive tools and power that could finally turn the bottom half of the Rays daily line-up card into an additional run-producing power source as well as showcasing some brilliant defensive stalwarts.

Tell me another time in this franchise’s history we have had 3 players who could bring the potential of the middle infield up to this previously unforeseen caliber. But depth like this can be a double-edged sword. Sure Elliot Johnson might see some additional starts in the outfield this season and be more of a plug-in utility player all around the field, but Briggy Baseball can also make Maddon change his mind a bit if he gets off to a splendid start at the plate, especially with some extra base nuggets.

That is not to say Brignac might not see some starts against crafty right-handers, or possibly weekly dose of getaway games and possible Sunday matinée’, but if Rodriguez should stumble out of the gate, there are options in place for Maddon to be swift with the marker and make changes. But that is what happens when you got 3 baseball players who have untold potential and limited spots and starts for them. But then again, it is a nice problem to have.

To finally have infield depth that can be plugged in and play to an outstanding level without skipping a beat. Who knows maybe the future sounds of  a plethora of 6-4-3 double play combos will be music to all of our ears. I know I already like the rhythm and cadence of it.