Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2



One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.


But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 



Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.



People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.



Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.


Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.


One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2’s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 



There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.



And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.


Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join and submit some stuff….You can count on that!



But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1” line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.





As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.


Credible Blogging begins with Leg Work


I remember back during my Mass Communication class in High School when my school newspaper advisor told us during a class lecture that at some time in our writing future, the subject of naming or not naming your “sources” for stories would turn our journalistic integrity into a slippery slope towards the negative, and the background work of our judgments to name or not name a source would play directly on our credibility as writers. Journalist have gone to prison and even been banished as if they had the Black Plague for misinformation and dishonesty in their writings.

And that simple premise of “watching your back” seems to make a lot of sense in today’s fast paced, electronic world of libel and slander where even a tongue-in-cheek reference can land you deep within a mountain of litigation, and then quickly, you and your writing integrity  could be sent sliding down the dark side like a mudslide even if you are totally right. Because that is essence of the culture today.  Injury someone emotionally or physically and some of the first words out of the mouth of the general public is “I will sue you!”. 

So dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” takes on a bigger role in the 5-second media world we have today. This weekend I was reading a very sordid and tangled web of “sources” and “unnamed sources” in a small series of blog postings by the New York Baseball Digest blog posting by Mike Silva. And while I was reading this account out of the New York area, that class discussion over 32 years ago  about sources came quickly to mind.

I was brought up on the old A P style book of journalism. Heck, back then it was the bible every Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and staffers used as a foundation for our story stylings.  And it suddenly came to my mind the old teaching of where if you make a statement associated with a source without credible sources or information, your stories foundation might crumble and not withstand a storm of controversy. 

One of the first thing I remember being taught was the fact that when you name sources or people with knowledge of an event, it is in your best interest to have two solid forms of evidence or information before even quoting one of them in your story. The reasoning for this method is to give your information a solid foundation so if you are questioned or receive a nice little legal writ, you have a secondary source that adds to your credibility on the subject matter.

Accuracy and credibility are the two of the founding cornerstones of retaining a loyal band of readers online. If they can get a sense of trusting your writings as the truth, then you gain readers and hopefully more web views of your postings. And maybe that is why it is so upsetting when I see a blog with half-baked writing principles and mis-guided information you know are half-truths at best.

Most of this simple misguided energy can be corrected with a simple credible source for your information. Some guy named “Joe Schmoe” who tended bar in such and such a club and overheard a conversation by player “A” and “B” about an event or something in regards to the Rays is considered “hearsay” at best unless you have a second person who heard or saw the same event.

RRCollections   Joe Nelson2009

An great example of the right way to document and solidify your sources was with the rumor I heard from a Rays player about the Tampa Bay Rays using their old 1998-99 Devilrays multi-colored logo jerseys during the Sunday July 12th afternoon game against the Oakland Athletics. I first heard a hint of this rumor back in late May 2009 by a player after a game, and I decided to dig a bit deeper into it before bringing it out into the light. Just because I now had one source doesn’t make the rumor a “truth” yet.

I first got a confirmation from a member of the Rays  field staff and another player as an additional source, but decided it might not be good to use them as my source. I do not like to use players as sources of information because they could decide to “clam up” and I might not ever hear another good morsel of information to track down. So I contacted someone within the Rays front office who deals directly with marketing and promotions and asked them to simply confirm or deny the spreading rumor. As soon as he  got back to me, that rumor quickly transformed into a fact, and I posted a Tweet about the upcoming event.


And because I had more than two sources to verify the possibility of the old “Rainbow Devilrays” uniforms were going to make an appearance again in that July contest. This in-depth  fact checking into the rumor gave me credibility about the event. And that is the one thing most people forget when they write online. Sure I can say almost anything about anyone on the team and maybe no one will call BS on me, but that is not the issue. Staying within the truths and admonishing the lies is the job of publications like the National Enquirer or Star Magazine, not the general blogging public.

If NYBD want to idolize those publications and style themselves in that realm of journalism, then go for it. But they have to be reminded that there are hundreds of websites like that all jockeying for the same morsels of media fodder. With every slight of hand missed fact and negative comment posted, the negative mountain is building around them. I know I would rather be the guy who will give his honest opinion and facts about an event, and I do shy from some of the “hot topic” stories around the league at time because I do not want to be 1 of the 2,000 people writing about the same thing day in, and day out.

We hear almost daily about some blogger somewhere who has given “fake” or mis-guided information and it in turn tends to affect all of our credibilities. But that doesn’t mean the “mainstream media” always follows the Golden Rule either. With the advent of sites like Twitter and the other social networks, fans can get  a snippet of information in the flash of a camera bulb and minutes before the “paid” media.

And that can be a slap in their faces at times. I posted a Twitpic of Pat Burrell’s new 70’s butch mustache during the 2009 season and also few “first” pictures of new Rays reliever, Jeff Bennett before the local media even reported it online. Here I am an unpaid and unsolicited fan got the scoop.


NYBD  made some critical errors when they did not get secondary sources checks on their quotes and information before posting it. Sometimes it is difficult to get that information, but if you can not prove it is 100
% true
, then it is a rumor. Blogs take a beating every day from the Media sources throughout the country as being slanderous and libel within an inch of their collective lives. For us to gain the credibility and the trust of the readers, we sometimes have to take it a notch above and sweat a little more for our information.
Anyone can write a rumor.

Anyone can create a mis-truth and start to perpetuate a lie. But if you really want to be known for your writings, do the leg work, strain the eyes to see beyond the words and ask the simple questions. Some times, the answers you get from a source can make your day. Other times it can disappoint and frustrate you. But every once in a while you get a tasty morsel and you do the work and build it into a credible masterpiece and then you can bask in the limelight and know you did it right……..the first time.


Rays Players Off Season Plans


Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!



Is this the Beginning of the End?

Marc Avery / AP

You also begin to breathe deeper and the feeling of impending doom begins to filter through your head. There is something coming, and you feel it in your bones, but you are unaware of the aspects of unadulterated shock and awe that bombards your senses in just a few moments. You are drawn like a moth to a flame to the horror and dismantling being played out in front of you. You longingly gander at the instance of tragedy and the impending agony beginning to settle in front of your eyes. In the back of your mind, you are grateful it did not get thrust upon you that day.

You begin to act nervous and uneasy in your chair, looking for a place to guide your eyes to take this image out of your mind, to replace the scene with familiar things, better things, things that do not denote the events unfolding on the field. And unfortunately, you get that personal, up-front view of the whole thing. The carnage in front of you doesn’t take a property toll or even a life, but the events still throw you through the total gambit of shock and awe, and you wish you were somewhere else.

Marc Avery / AP

You want to be somewhere else, you want to crawl anywhere, do anything, see something else in your mind’s eye for a moment to take you away from the sounds and the motions of this events unfolding in front of you. Through more and more violent motions until that third out was clutched by B J Upton. And you hoped that it is all over……. or is it?

And in that silent moment, you notice the Rays players as they jogged off the field with their heads down, just  barely glancing into the stands as they entered the Visitor’s dugout, stun and emotionally embarrassed of what had just unfolded in front of them. And the worst part was the fact they were all helpless  and could only contribute when the flight of the ball and the flow of the game let them help. For once this proud team was powerless to the fury that unfolded in front of them.

You had a bit of uneasy confidence in going into that bottom of the fifth inning with a slim 3-1 lead. You knew that offensive woes have been the devil to this squad all season on the road, but tonight you almost got the feeling it might be enough to bring it home. But there was no way to honestly foresee the coming carnage within the next 50+ pitches. Matt Garza, who had great control most of the evening was not a candidate for a free fall that would see this game turn so fast. You knew that Garza was beginning to elevate the baseball, but something demoralizing as the next inning never played out in your mind.

And it was a bit surreal that the site of such an implosion would be on the same mound, the same stadium that evoked another meltdown of Garza a year earlier. Garza had taken measures after that chaos to gain control of himself, and you had no idea that such a event was to again unfold on that very same mound. And in a blink of your eyes you saw that uncomfortable 3-1 lead melt away like the last snow of Winter.

The damage was not subtle, it was not drawn out, it was a violent explosion of power and ability that had laid under the surface of this Rangers team all night. You knew the potential for damage was high with this Rangers team, but so far in the contest Garza had tamed the beast within. In the next long hour you saw  a constant rush of a dozen or so emotions entangle your brain and pull on your heart strings. You felt for this Rays team, and empathized with their pain. You wanted to do anything in your power to stop the implosion, but it was too late.

And you did not want to see Garza, Jeff Bennett or Dale Thayer take any more of this constant barrage of the Rangers bats. You wanted it to all end, you yearned for a reprieve from the past hours events. In your mind you knew you just might have seen the candle flicker out on this team and that with that 11-run carnage, you might have witnessed their last stand. An event like this with less than 8 games left in the season could put up massive walls to just “mail in” the rest of the schedule.

Bill Koustroun / AP

And this is the type of game that you can not wash from your skin in a short time and again take the field with total confidence. This one lingers for a while and has a deadening effect on everyone in that clubhouse. No where to run and hide, this one smacks you hard and deep and leave more than a few welts on your mind and heart.

But still for that hour you watched in horror, but did not look away. You found yourself glued to the watch the entire event like you do when the local new reports a disaster or flood in the Third World country. But this time the pit of your stomach aches and you personally feel the  emotions and the gloom you encountered as the events unfolded.
This time you felt like you might have been collateral damage from the game. That this one also stole a bit of you last night.



Should Shields and Garza be Shut Down?


Jim Prisching / AP

Recently I have been hearing more and more chatter about the Rays shutting down Rays starters Matt Garza and James Shields before the end of the 2009 season. There are several great reasons for this to happen, but the most compelling  answer might be that if the Rays are not playing for anything in particular, like a playoff berth, maybe they should shut down their work horses before the Rays last home stand of the season.

This makes  a lot of sense for several reasons, but the clear facts that the Rays have other pitchers in their Bullpen who could take some of the slack off both of the starters. over the Lance Cormier, Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Bennett could  throw some valuable innings right now to  perserve both Shields and Garza for the 2010 season.

And there lies an interesting situation for the Rays Caoching staff. All three of these Bullpen pitchers  have at one time or another been spot starters either in the minor or major leagues. And the possibility of each or all of them pitching at least 4-6 innings of work could take some of the pressure off the Rays staff. But real problem might be in convincing both the competitve Garza and Shields that they can take a rest because of what they have both done since the beginning of the 2008 season.

The reality of shutting both of them down does merit a great amount of thought since both guys will either be passing or nearing their  innings pitched totals for 2008 in their next two starts. Neither pitcher has anything to prove to the Rays staff or fans. We know they have been the studs who have gone out there every 5 days and thrown their arms off for this team in both 2008 and 2009. And maybe a little more pitching information on both of them in the last two seasons might make this decision a whole lot easier for the fans to digest.

Gail Burton /AP

Considering that in 2008, Garza and Shields were the only pair of MLB pitchers to toss 2 complete games each while allowing 2 hits or less. And that statistic alone is a monumental feat for a team that has always struggled with their starting pitching to hold a degree of solidarity. But if you add to that overall mix the fact that both of them also threw an additional 25 innings each during the 2008 Post Season, and that by adding those innings  to either their 2008 or 2009 pitching totals, it would take both of them way beyond their previous top inning marks in the Major Leagues. 

And a  honest fact that might have eluded most of the Rays fan base is the odd fact that Shields will easily become the only Rays pitcher to ever throw three straight 200+ innings in a season with his next start. And Shields, os also the only Rays starter to ever throw 2 consecutive 200+ innings in a season. Shields has been a thoughbred during the last two years throwing 215 innings in both 2007 and 2008, and that mark was only 9 innings short during both seasons of the 2002  pitching record set by ex-Rays Tanyon Sturtze (224).

During the 2008 regular season, Shields went to the hill 33 times for the Rays and posted a 14-8 record with a 3.56 ERA. To further boast the reputation of Shields, only Toronto’s Roy Halladay (471.1) posted more innings than Shields (430) in the past two seasons in the American League. But in 2009, there have been times that it actually looked like maybe he was having a “Post Season Hangover” because of the extra 25 innings tossed in the 2008 playoffs.

Elaine Thompson / AP

Add his 33 starts to his 4 starts in the post season, and Shields went to the hill 37 times for the Rays just last season. And during his last 10 starts  so far in 2009, he has averaged at least 6 innings of work before leaving the game. But during that time, Shields has also seen his ERA slowly creeping up from a 3.70 to 4.03 ERA. This might be a subtle change, but it might also be an indication that his arm is beginning to tire a bit, and shutting him down could prevent injury or complications in 2010.

But the same scenario can also apply for Garza. Even though in 2008 he did miss a few starts due to a radial nerve irritation situation in April and missed 16 games on the disabled list. But even with his missing a few starts in 2008, the Rays gunslinger threw 184.2 innings last season and also tossed an additional 25 innings in the post season. Garza took the mound for the Rays in 30 regular season starts, and like Shields also started 4 games in the Rays run to the 2008 World Series. That would push Garza’s 2008 total to 209.2 total innings, which is a lot for any pitchers first full-season in the Major Leagues.

And in 2008 he responded  to the Rays challenge with a 11-9 record and a 3.70 ERA in those 30 regular season starts. But it was his two srats in the 2008 American League Championship Series that established Garza  as a threat every time out on the mound. During that series he allowed only 2 earned runs in 13 innings and posted a 1.38 ERA during the ALCS 7-game series against the Red Sox. But it was his stellar performance in Game 7 held on October 19,2008 that has endeared him to Rays fans forever.

During that contest, Garza threw for 7-innings and produced a 2-hit, 1-run gem against the Red Sox while striking out 9 Boston hitters. It was a truly gutsy clutch performance, and a feat that eventually garnered him the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player award by allowing only 7 total hits in his 13 innings during the 7-game series. In doing so, Garza became the youngest pitcher ever to win the ALCS MVP award while holding Boston to a .226 batting average and gaining victories against, Red Sox starter Jon Lester in both their starts in the ALCS.

And in 2009, Garza also has push onward and upward  and had classic Rays moments, but also had outings where it looked like the carry over post season innings might have given him a bit of arm fatigue. Garza has posted only a 7-10 record this season with a 3.84 ERA. Though todays game, Garza has already made 29 starts for the Rays,and has surpassed his 2008 inning pitched total by a 1/3 of an inning (185).

Over his last 10 starts this season, Garza has averaged 6 2/3rds innings of work, with only one outing against the Los Angeles Angels  did he throw less than 5 innings. In that contest on August 10, 2009, Garza lasted 3.1 innings and surrendered 4-runs on 6-hits while also being tagged for 2 homers in the outing. And Garza has gone at least seven i
nnings in his last two starts for the Rays, which was beneficial to the Rays as they sorted out some Bullpen malfunctions. 

Coming into tonight’s game against the Orioles, it is possible for  Shields to have a total of three more starts in 2009,  he should be going to the hill in the Rays last road trip of 2009 to Texas (Sept. 25) and  could have possibly two more starts at home against the Orioles ( Sept. 30) and the season finale against the New York Yankees on Sunday,October 4th.  Garza himself could be in line for at least two trips to the mound to conclude 2009, starting with a possible start against the Rangers (Sept. 26) and take the mound again in his last home appearance on October 1st against the Yankees.

Mike Carlson / AP

To decide to place either player on the bench for the rest of the season will be a difficult decision by the Rays. But the great fact that the Rays have three long relievers right now on their roster, and could even bring up an additional long reliever or starter after the Durham Bulls finish their playoff run, this give the team realistic options to shutting the pair down soon. Either way, the Rays could possibly shut down both of their top pitchers by the time the team returns from Texas on September 27th.

The Rays Coaching staffs decision has to be based on the total number of innings thrown by the young pair, with an eye towards the 2010 season. I actually see them maybe sitting down Garza after his start in Texas since he already has peaked out at around his 2008 innings totals. Shields might get two more starts at the most before they should shut him down.

Both pitcher should be proud of this seasons efforts and the level of stability they have established in both of their pitching in the last two seasons.  Subtle adjustments and pitching grip changes might be in order for both in the off season, but their collective 2009 seasons have given the Rays a chance to strive towards their post season goals all season long. 

Both pitchers have also established themselves among the best young arms in the AL East, and should develop more in 2010. I just hope both pitchers take the possible “shut downs” as a career positive and not a demotion or negative at all. Both have produced countless memories for the Rays in 2009, and I give both of them a standing ovation and a huge round of applaud for their efforts. If the season has no possible merits for the post season again, and the honest fact that the additional innings could increase their chances of injury, then they should be shut down to conserve  a pair of the Rays best resources.

Marc Avery / AP

The Rays starting pitching did not set the league on fire in 2009, but it did raise a few eyebrows to the competitive nature of this team, and the Rays should again be fighting for the division league for many years to come. Shields And Garza are two valuable member of the Rays future plans for success, and everything should be done in the team’s power to conserve and eliminate any possible injury situations in the last couple of weeks of the season. For we all want to again see both of them celebrating and having the time of their lives in the post season. And if that means sitting them right now, then that is the right decison.


Ex-Brave Jeff Bennett comes to Tampa Bay


Just when you think you can figure out the Tampa Bay front office ad what they might have on their minds they go and pull a complete rabbit out of their collective hats. Since the demotion of Rays reliever Joe Nelson, the team had a player in mind the entire time, but needed to make a sound judgment call on who would be the guy to go either to Triple-A Durham or be Designated for Assignment last night.

The team signed ex-Braves reliever  right-handed pitcher Jeff Bennett ( #47) to their roster before the start of their 4:10 game today against the Kansas City Royals.   The team also released James Houser today and Bennett will be placed on the Rays 40-man roster. Bennett comes to the Rays with a 2-4 record and a 3.12 ERA in 33 appearances. As we speak he is currently doing a side session under the watchful eye of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.


The Rays have not issued an offical press release yet on the roster move ( 2:08 pm), but when you are in a Rays BP jersey with your name on it, and you are doing a side session with the team’s Pitching Coach, it is only a matter of time. Bennett last appeared against the New York Yankees on June 24th and went 1.1 innings and gave up 2 hits and an earned run in the appearance.