Results tagged ‘ Gregg Zaun ’

Maddon has gone to the Dark Side

You knew it was coming up and you had an odd feeling someone was going to do a wild antic to celebrate the next road trip,which had been dubbed the “Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash tribute tour by Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon. When they boarded that plane this Sunday it was to be an all-black extravaganza, no blues, reds or even whites, just plain, simple black-on-black. But you would have never expected the silver fox himself would be the one to trump everyone in the locker room with his actions.

Or should we say the new “Clark Kent” of the Rays clubhouse went to the dark side. I really think Maddon went above and beyond the call of duty on the Rays day off and took an extreme turn with his silver locks and transported his folicles to a place that they had not been since his 20’s. He went totally black. Yes,black as the night in a tunnel. As dark as the black letters being typed on this blog.

And some outside of the Rays fandom might think this might be too much of an extreme measure to be taken at such an important and critical segment in the Rays season,but if you are questioning it at all,then you have not been paying attention to the savant skipper. The guy is a walking encyclopedia of witty sayings, optimistic quotes. Maddon recently told the St Petersburg Times:

“I was going to wait until Sunday night to do it, then I thought why not in advance just to get it out there, loosen things up a bit. I think we’ve been playing hard, we definitely careI’ve been looking for an avenue to lighten things up a bit. So I went with darker hair to lighten things up bit.


Chris O’Meara / AP

 The Rays have never had such a thinker as a player or manager before Maddon stepped into this clubhouse. Sure former Manager Lou Pinella did sport blond locks on the side of his head for a while after the team fulfilled a promise of a 3-game winning streak in 2003,but if this little experiment works,if those 25 guys in that clubhouse follow the lead and continue onward and upward in the Wild Card standings then maybe the Mensa society of Tampa Bay should have a chat with the Rays skipper.

And to really think beyond the box here,this could be this season’s Rayshawk”. Think about it for a moment,most of the current Rays already sports dark hair,but there are a few holdouts with the golden locks or reddish tints to their hair follicles. But could it only be a matter of time before they to, follow the skipper and make it a massive statement or show their pride in the “2009 Rays Way” of thinking.

Maddon did it to drum up confidence and excitement in the clubhouse. B J Upton did his  initial mohawk in 2008 as a change of pace to pump up the energy level a notch and show his support for the team heading towards the playoffs last season. Others quickly followed on the team and soon we had an army of  finely sculptured hair challenged fans and players who sported the “Rayshawk” look all the way into the World Series. This darkend hair statement could be the 2009 version.

For some it might take a bit more commitment than others. Rays reliever/closer J P Howell might be one of the guys to next take the ultimate “Sharpie” inspired coloring to his head along with uber-infielder Ben Zobrist. Maddon has chatted with both of them, and knowing the commitment to this team of both of them, I am expecting darker beards and hair by tonight’s game. If Howell did go “dark” he might look more like a cast member of “Grease” than a baseball player,but it would be an outward statement to the team and the fans.

For Zobrist, it would just be another evolution in the “Zorilla” persona and might bring him back to his earlier season glory at the plate. The one guy who the look might fit perfectly would be catcher Gregg Zaun. It would transform him into an instant band member of ‘Seether” or “Metallica” if he took his reddish-brown locks and went into the dark with the tint. But the one true test on the team, the one that would stand out the most might be with the guy you would never expect it from……..Gabe Gross.

Chris O’Meara / AP

Gross is that All-American,apple pie and Chevrolet kind of guy. Back home Americana reeks off of him. For Gross to go the “Goth way” would not only send shock waves through rural Alabama, but send a rush of excitement and energy into the crowd at Tropicana Field. There is no doubt tha
t the mental image of Maddon taking a chance like this with his hair, and the Rays trying to boost themselves back into a tight Wild Card race do notseem to have parallel paths.

But Maddon is a genius with motivation and leading by example and by showing his own personal level of commitment by altering his hair, it might be the perfect visual key to unlack the Rays potential right now. It is the motivational process in its simpliest forms. Maybe it took only a smattering of hair dye by Maddon’s new blushing bride Jaye, but it was a huge outplaying of total commitment by the skipper to his team, and to their goals in 2009. In the end, it would be a fitting tribute to Johnny Cash who wrote a song entitled “Man in Black” in 1971. In the song is the following line that just might fit the reason Maddon took this chance:


“We’re doing mighty fine I do suppose/In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes/But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back/Up front there ought to be a man in black.”

It’s a Numbers Game / file photo

With the Tampa Bay Rays adding two new players to their roster in the last 24 hours, there has been a hustle and bustle of conversation and negotiations behind the scenes in and around the clubhouse for those two guys to secure their “favorite” numbers that have graced their uniforms throughout their careers.  Newbie to the team, catcher Gregg Zaun has always worn the number “9” his entire career and sees it as the ultimate good luck charm to him. The only problem is that the Rays uniform number “9” was previously assigned to back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is on the DL down in Durham right now.

New Rays reliever Russ Springer also had the same situation when he arrived in Seattle last night for his first game in a Rays uniform. For the night he would be wearing number “37” until the Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland could do a fast sewing and manipulation of the “36” jersey in time for the Sunday finale at Safeco Field. In that contest, Springer would be sporting the comfortable “36” he has worn for many years. But that number had been picked out by fellow Bullpen member Randy Choate and he did offer to surrender the number to Springer in time for the last game of the series.

Athletes do feel a  wild kinship to their numbers. I know I always worn a form of the two numerals “1” or “3” throughout my playing days. I even got lucky enough in High School and College to wear “13” and “31” so I had a double whammy of good luck. And to say athletes are not superstitious is  like saying Paula Deen loves margarine on her food. Seriously, I felt a power mentally within me when I had my number on my back. It was an inner strength I could not describe, it was my version of the Superman cape.

Nick Wass / AP

The number’s on a players uniform are as much a part to a players psyche and identity as their names to the fans. The numbers on their back mean so much to some players that they do not seem to play like themselves without their special numbers. So was it any wonder that newly minted Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson once paid $ 25,000 to get his beloved “24” on his back during one of his many team changes in his career.

And changing your number can also change the way the fans see a player. When pitcher Roger Clemens came back, didn’t it seem a bit odd to see him in a “21” jersey instead of the traditionaL “22” that he wore during his glory days. And when Michael Jordan put on that “45” jersey during his return to the courts, did he not look anything like the “23” we grew to love for all those years in Chi-town.

Numbers can universally imprint a player into our minds and memories. I look at Carl Crawford’s early years with the Rays wearing the number “8” years,before he switched to “13”. It was like a night and day comparision as he began to sprint out from under a shadow the minutehe put number “13” on his back. Now you know him by his number from a distance and do not have to look at the name blazoned across his shoulders.

I remember an article by ESPN columnist Jim Caple back a few years ago where he remembers a “Seinfeld” episode that showed how a players number can transform into our daily lives and about how synonymous a player and their numbers can become to us ?

Consider the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza revealed to his fiancé Susan that he planned to name their first child Seven. Seven Costanza?” Susan replied, “Are you serious?”

“Yeah. It’s a beautiful name for a boy or a girl. Especially for a girl. … Or a boy.”

“I don’t think so.”

“What, you don’t like the name?”

“It’s not a name, it’s a number.”

I know. It’s Mickey Mantle’s number. So not only is it an all-around beautiful name, it is also a living tribute.”

We all know the poor George did not stand a chance in that arument and went down on flames. But those numbers do something within us. Those simple cloth numbers. I know as a player I did not want the secondary numbers like “18” or “11”, I wanted that number where I felt safety within, and secure going to battle wearing on my back.That’s right, to me either number “13” or “31” held the powers of the universe plain and simple.

We know that a majority of the baseball world is content with number under 70, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon has worn the number “70” for years and  we can not visual;ize him wearing anything else on his back. But the numbers game goes beyond just numbers at times. Most good pitchers would not even consider wearing a single digit number on their backs. But it can go further than that in the realms of good and bad. A number can end up defining a player just by sight.

So as the Rays take the field today at 4 pm in Seattle, think about it for a minute. Could you imagine Evan Longoria not wearing his customary “3”, or even Rays starter Scott Kazmir not wearing number “19” If those number symbolize who they are to you, then  you get the idea of this blog. Mention to a Yankee fan the number “4” and you get Lou Gehrig. Mention “24” to a San Francisco Giants fan and you get Willy Mays.

The number becomes just as important as what they do on the field or mound. For that number will always symbolize who they are as a player, and what they did while wearing that number. So, you got to wonder, what did Choate and Riggans get for exchanging their jersey numbers with the Rays two veterans. Well, neither are saying right now, but what they did is give their new teammates a sense of comfort and security on their first day on the job.





The Z-Man Comes to Tampa Bay

I have to admit when I first heard that the Tampa Bay Rays had traded for catcher Gregg Zaun a bit of ease went through my body. Here is a guy who might not be huge in stature, he is listed at 5 ft 10 inches, a slim inch taller than Dioner Navarro. But the fact that Zaun plays like he is 6 foot 9 inches and 250 pounds might be a great boost for the Rays.

We finally got a guy behind the plate that will be effective behind the plate stopping balls in the dirt and also can be a major pain to opponents at the plate. All you have to do is just look at what he has done to the Rays in 2009 to see the potential for added offense.  Zaun went 5 for 17 with 4 runs and 3 walks while homering once with an RBI. You might say that this .294 average is not great, but he has only faced the Rays in 6 games and did that type of damage. Do you need further stats to show you it was a great move?

Okay, maybe you need to be convinced a little more. How about we look at his 2008 numbers and see just how effective this pesky catcher has been against the Rays, even during their Championship season. Zaun hit for a .300 average just during the 3-games series in Walt Disney’s Champion Stadium.

But the Rays did blank him at Tropicana Field in 2008 by getting him to go 0-5 with only a walk. But he always seems to be at the center of any scoring drive against the Rays, and he did most of hid damage in 2008 at home in Toronto. In Rogers Centre, Zaun went 7 for 17, with 4 RBIs and a run scored.  He batted .412 against the Rays with a .647 Slugging Percentage in the confines of his domed home. But this trade was done for other reasons too.

In 2009, Zaun has only committed 5 errors in 316 total chances in 435.1 innings. He has caught 5 base runners this season, and has a .984 Fielding Percentage. These numbers are pretty similar when you stack them up next to Navarro’s 2009 numbers of 5 errors in 572 chances in 696 innings. And Navarro has caught 14 base runners and boasts a .991 Fielding Percentage.

Those similar statistics might be the biggest reason he is here in Tampa Bay right now. His numbers are very similar in comparison with Navarro. But he also has a few intangibles that overshadow Navarro. One of the constant complaints on Navarro has been the way he handles balls that scuff into the clay or hit in front of the plate. It always seems like he is not getting his glove down in time, or is not in position to block it effectively with his glove.

This can frustrate a pitching staff and can render the catcher a liability in a close game. Ball getting away from the plate, or even sailing to the backstop can be counter productive to stopping a running game by your opponent. Even tho Navarro has been effective in gunning down guys, his mishandling of balls in the dirt could have prevented runners moving up into scoring position.

Zaun is a workhorse behind the plate, and like Navarro, he is also a switch hitter. But beyond all of that, he brings a professionalism that has lacked since Josh Paul left the Rays. Paul was a great catcher as well as teacher while he was here with the Rays. Navarro is not the type to teach anyone since he still has things to learn himself. Zaun could be the answer to letting him grow without pressure knowing his back-up is totally competent to running the Rays pitching staff.

Nick Wass / AP

But above all, Zaun brings to the Rays a truly professional sense from top to bottom. Who knows who the imfamous player-to-be-named-later will be, but he will be a small player in comparison to what Zaun could do for the rays down the stretch. Another huge plus is his knowledge of the American League East hitters. That brings about instant credibility and a great asset behind the plate.

And also, I think he is the first player we have ever traded for who has a dedicated website to his talents on the web. Just go to and you will be impressed not only by the graphics and the music, but by the sheer abilities this guy can bring to the Rays. From the posted videos to the music contained on the website it breeds excitement, and brings you wanting to know more about the guy.

I am truly excited we have a guy that will get behind the plate and throw himself all over the clay and turf to block pitches and get this team into a mode to win every night. This is not to mean that he will come in here and dominate or even replace Navarro. I think he was brought in to compliment the team and not push anyone aside right now.

I can not wait for Zaun to get back to the Trop so I can go up and welcome him here, plus ask him what his walk-up music will be here in Tampa Bay. Could he be staying with his old favorites “BYOB” by System of the Down, or maybe  “Limelight” by Rush. The guy is going to bring some light to the Rays that is needed right now.

Offensive power from the catcher’s spot is needed right now, and his current line of a .244 average with 4 homers and 13 RBIs might not seem like a huge upside, but his 27 walks pose problems for pitchers. That last stat might be the biggest improvement behind the plate. Navarro has only walked a total of 9 times this season.

Zaun, or the “Z-man” as fans have affectionately called him has been a huge part of the scenery in the AL East for a long time. With him now here in Tampa Bay it boosts a soft spot in the Rays offense and defense and makes for a more effective battery going into the stretch run.

Nick Wass / AP

Want to know just what kind of classy guy we are getting here in Tampa Bay? Here is a small sampling from his website on his favorite charity, Right to Play:

Thanks for visiting our website. We started this site for one reason. To help raise awareness and money for RIGHT TO PLAY. I first became exposed to the organization while playing for the Blue Jays, when my wife Jamie and Patrick Grey, a former Blue Jay employee, first brought it to my attention. It was clear to me that Johan Olav Koss, the Olympic speed skater, had truly built an incredible foundation. Their work around the world is timely and crucial to the survival of a generation. I urge you to check the RIGHT TO PLAY website and when ours is finished, give all you can. The children of the world are counting on all of of us to do our part in saving them.

I am so excited to have this guy playing for the Rays. not only is he a great guy on the field in terms of his hustling style, but he is a major player in the community and would be a great asset to the Rays Foundation. Plus, I think he is the first player we have ever acquired who has a web presence besides Rays reliever Brian Shouse.  Mix that with his colorful catcher’s helmet that mirror’s the NHL goalies, and you get a guy with a great zest and love for this game. Can’t wait for him to get behind the plate in the Trop.