Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rays Officially Hit the Big Time

Yes, they have been in existence for 13 years, and yes, they have played in a World Series, but finally, the Tampa Bay Rays are officially big time. That's because they finally have a player who can be marketed on a national level.

The MLB 2K10 commercial, featuring Evan Longoria, finally started airing nationally, including on ESPN. Longo is one of MLB's bright young stars, and like Marc Topkin wrote about last July, his Q score is quickly going through the roof. Kids across the nation are identifying Evan with the Rays - which is huge. That means more merchandise, more nationally televised games, higher ratings, etc. At this rate, Longo could be heading toward Derek Jeter territory. This commercial is the first step. Take a look - it's pretty cool.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Maddon announces Rays pitching rotation... for spring training

Photo: Brandi Ottinger
Manager Joe Maddon announced that he will go with the rotation of James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Wade Davis for the exhibition season. Maddon told reporters they could glean from that information what they may.

The only curiousity is the position of Dave Price in the rotation after Jeff Niemann. You would think Maddon would use Price to separate the Shields/Garza and Niemann/Davis. However Niemann did have the most wins on the pitching staff last year, so he very well may have earned that number 3 spot.

This is the first year the Rays are going into the season pretty much with the rotation set. That bodes well for early in the season. These guys can bond as a group and work together to make this a real solid rotation. As I've said before, one of these guys is really going to have to step up and become the "ace" this year. Otherwise, we could end up with another year of 3 number 2 pitchers and no number 1 pitchers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forget CC and Pat - It's All About the Staff

It seems everyone has their own opinion on the impending Carl Crawford situation, and it's nice to know that Pat the Bat is looking to rebound in 2010, but the Rays don't need those two players to perform to make the playoffs.

Let's harken back to the 2008 Rays, shall we? If I recall, Pat was on his way to a World Series ring with the Phillies, while Crawford played in only 109 games, hitting .273 and stealing a career-low 25 bases. Yet, the Rays won the AL East, and made it all the way to the World Series. How did they do it you ask?

It's easy. Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. In 2008, the Rays ranked 2nd in the AL in every pitching category imaginable. When it came to team ERA, innings pitched, hits allowed, and runs allowed, the Rays were behind only the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last season, the Rays' team ERA dropped to 6th best in the AL, and was middle of the pack when it came to giving up runs. That has GOT to change to get back to the playoffs.

So in 2010, don't worry if Pat the Bat keeps thinking the AL is a beer league, and who cares if CC whines about his legs on the Trop turf. The more important questions are: Will Matt Garza bounce back to his dominant form? Can David Price become a consistent starter? Will Jeff Niemann suffer a sophomore slump?

If the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and no; the 2010 Rays are playoff bound.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Joe Maddon shares thoughts heading into spring training | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 Connects

Joe Maddon shares thoughts heading into spring training | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 Connects

My collegue at 10 Connects (WTSP) Angela Jacobs got the chance to sit down one on one and ask the skipper some questions.  Some of these questions came from some of the Rays Revolutionary fans. I wanted to share this with you. I, myself, could listen to Joe Maddon for hours. He's easily the best manager in AL East. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to Get Fans to the Trop? Just Offer Free Autographs

Hey Matt Silverman and Stu Sternberg, I think I know how to fill up the Trop. I'm sure the last ten words really got your attention.

Here's the plan: offer free autographs two hours before first pitch, and you're guaranteed 30,000 folks at every game. At least, Rays Fan Fest 2010 proves that theory. I arrived shortly before 11 a.m. thinking I would have no problem getting an Evan Longoria autograph. Boy, was I wrong.

The line for Evan wrapped around at least five times and out the right field door. So, it was off to Plan B. Evan signed autographs at noon. Carlos Pena was scheduled for 1 p.m. The Pena line at 11 a.m. wasn't so bad. The really sad part is that Rays minor league phenom Desmond Jennings was also signing autographs in the same line - just an hour earlier than Pena. So basically, if anyone decided to get a Desmond autograph, they lost their place in line for Pena.

Oh well, it seemed as if Carl Crawford's future, Desmond was still having a good time despite watching a line of 500 people try not to make eye contact with him, in essence, saying, "Sorry kid, but I know I'll have another opportunity at the 2011 Fan Fest to get your autograph, and according to Stu, this is my last shot for Pena."

And another thing to keep in mind for Stu and Matt, if you truly want to incite a riot, it's really easy. Just have a big time Rays player, such as Carlos Pena, completely stop signing autographs only to be interviewed by Rich Herrera, thus reducing his allotted autograph time. I never thought I would hear hundreds of people cursing Rich's name in unison until today.

Another observation I made while in line -- people really like Andy Sonnanstine. He and Wade Davis were signing at the table next to Pena's. That line did move much faster, but it was still pretty long. And I was somewhat astonished at how many people wanted to take their picture with Andy.

I guess if you seem like a nice enough guy like Andy, Rays fans will ultimately like you no matter what. And I mean no matter what. Did everyone forget his 6.77 ERA in 2009 including two games as Ben Francisco's personal batting practice pitcher? If Sonnanstine starts even one game in 2010, the Rays are not going to the playoffs.

Overall, I must admit Fan Fest 2010 was pretty impressive. I've heard reports of 30,000 plus showing up on Saturday, and that seems accurate. It's encouraging to know that there is plenty of enthusiasm in this town for Rays baseball.

I did have to wait nearly two-and-a-half hours for a Pena autograph, but it was well worth it. Although, I must admit. I will never question Carl Crawford again. Your legs do hurt while standing on the Trop's field turf for long periods of time.

How the people of St. Pete really feel about the Rays via Facebook

This morning, while doing my normal Facebook stuff (you know deleting people's mafia wars and the like), I came across an interesting thread on the Downtown St. Pete Facebook fan page.  The guy that runs it linked Topkin's article this morning about the stadium and what Stu Sternberg had to say about it. He basically says the Rays need a new stadium, but they're staying out of all the stadium talks that are getting bantered about on the other side of the Bay.

Interestingly enough, the comments section blew up below the posting.  The opinions varied from "I hope the city sues" to "people in St. Pete will realize we have to build a new stadium or we will lose the Rays." There were also arguments about outdoor vs indoor and retractable roof, references to the contract, call to run them out of town. attendance concerns, etc.

I believe the "I love the burg" members are a good microcosm of St. Petersburg's feelings on the new stadium in general.

Here is some of what was said:

The Trop is fine. Leave it alone.

The city has bowed enough to these GREEDY CLOWNS. The Trop is a PALACE compared to many MLB stadiums. SUE!!

its about BUSINESS...where can they make the most money, where can they pack the stands, baseball teams have been known to LEAVE a metro, so i say wherever they land from a business perspective is fine with me, as long as they STAY in the Tampa Bay market. And not everything has gone to from St. Pete to Tampa, St. Pete did nail the home of the Florida Orchestra.

Are you people serious? What exactly have the Rays done for us? Bring in money to local business? I don't think so... For all ya'll who weren't living here back in the early 90's, the majority of St. Pete residents didn't want the "Thunder Dome" (as it was known then) to be built!!! We protested outside of city hall, and went to city councilmeetings, as usual, they didn't listen to us.

That's where the problem lies for St. Petersburg and the Rays: the town isn't united one way or another. And that's causing the city's leadership to freeze up at the most inopportune time. In fact, it seems as though Mayor Bill Foster is busy putting his fingers in his ears and saying, "You will stay. You signed a contract." He's not sure what side of the fence to go on, so he's just frozen in the middle.

But, that's not going to work. A snowball is rolling and where it's going to land we don't know. What we do know is that Rays ownership under Stu Sternberg is willing to take chances and think outside the box when it comes to just about anything. That includes stadiums. Precedent means nothing for these guys, so we really don't have a blueprint to go on.

As for St. Petersburg, it seems like the town almost suffers from a "little brother" complex. I grew up in St. Pete, but now live in Brandon. I know how suspiciously people from the "other side of the Bay" are viewed.  It's like the city likes having the Rays to show off, but they don't want to be bothered doing anything to make them happy.

If St. Petersburg really wants to be home of the Rays, they'd better get their heads out of the sand and do something or they're going to get rolled. Sternberg has said repeatedly (including yesterday) that they're not planning on playing that lease out. He says he has baseball behind him and Hillsborough seems to be gathering troops. This is a war St. Pete can't win.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Millionaire and a Dillionaire

A Millionaire and a Dillionaire

The Big Ray himself was out at the Park Almost Called Mosaic this morning for the beginning of Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers reported this morning and it appears the Big Ray was giving a pep talk to the boys. There are a lot of expectations for this squad.  The Big Ray has approved quite a payroll to start the season.

The best part about today is that it finally seems as winter is over. I know we don't have it that bad in Florida, but it'll be nice when we can stop complaining about the chill and start complaining about the heat. 

As for the team, we usually don't learn much the first few days.  Rafael Soriano had to cut his workout short because of a cold.  J.P. Howell was sporting a new look for 2010 with a longer haircut and a full on beard.

The one thing that still bothers me about the starting pitching staff is the lack of a "veteran" presence. Joe Maddon said yesterday that this group will have an interesting dynamic because of their age. James Shields is the "gray beard" at the ripe old age of 28.  The good news is that Shields, Matt Garza, and David Price all have playoff pitching experience.  They've also had a full off-season to get ready for this year. I'm interested in seeing which of these pitchers steps up as the leader this year.

The team does seam to know the importance of starting out strong this year.  Howell said, "We learned the hard way last year that it starts in April and we thought we could catch up and it was false, and now we know. It was a good lesson to learn."

We'll know real quickly if that lesson sunk in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's all about the timing when it comes to moves involving Crawford or Pena..

To quote one of my good Twitter friends (Stephanie): Baseball season must almost be here because "everybody is busy reconfiguring the team for 2011."

Stephanie's right. As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to Port Charlotte, the Rays online fanbase seems to be energized about the thought of the Rays unloading a couple of players before next year. The biggest names coming up are Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.  I've even heard talk (from an ESPN analyst) about the Rays moving a guy who hasn't yet even thrown a pitch for the Rays. Yep, spring training is almost here for Rays fans.

This morning, Rays Index went into further detail  about his thoughts on a possible mid-season fire sale for the Rays.  I agree with the Professor, it's all about the timing. I've resigned myself to CC and Pena leaving the Rays with nothing but memories. But, what I don't want to see is the Rays move these guys while the team is still fighting for a pennant.

Ownership is treading in very treacherous waters right now.

For some reason, a good majority of the fanbase had enough of Kazmir last year. For every person trying to point out how bad the timing was, there were 3 others salivating at the thought of 3 "prospects" from Anaheim and 2 others just glad to see Kid K gone from the rotation.

I still don't believe it's a coincidence that the team went into a solid nose dive after the Kaz trade. Professionals or not, when your ownership seemingly gives up on you... you're going to give up on them. It's basic psychology. Whether or not, we the fans or ownership thought the Kaz trade was good, the players obviously realized the implications of it. The Rays may not have been able to beat the Yankees, but isn't it important to give them the chance?

Back to this year. It seems the Rays are already taking pre-emptive strikes in getting the fanbase ready for them leaving. I'm just afraid that the Rays FO is going to be so enamored with getting "something" for these guys that they take their eyes off the prize: Winning a championship.

The players have to believe that ownership is just as worried about this year as they are about the next five or we won't see the fire that this team had in 2008. You can break down the stats all you want, but baseball is also about emotion. A 162 game season is a marathon that none of us at home really understand. It takes a lot of effort to get motivated and play at the highest level day in and day out. The Rays front office should keep an eye on that.

I'm all for getting "something" for CC and Pena, just not at the expense of playoff baseball. One more note: The Rays fanbase has been discussing the possibility of life without CC almost from the moment he broke in. And guess what? He's still here.

Longo in Powder Blue

The Rays have made it official -- they will be in powder blue on Sundays. Also, the team has not dumped the dark blue jersey they wore on many Sundays last season. Instead, it's going into the jersey mix as well. In fact, the Rays issued a press release boasting that they're "one of 16 teams with four jerseys."

Also, you catch some Rays showing off the powder blue tonight on both sides of the bay.

James Shields and Wade Davis are heading to Champs Sports at International Plaza in Tampa from 7 p.m to 8 p.m.

Jeff Niemann and Kelly Shoppach are heading to Champs Sports at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Pete from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Now let me ask you the question, does Longo look less intimidating in powder blue? Seriously, powder blue hasn't given the San Diego Chargers nor the Denver Nuggets much post season success.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Zim's Crystal Ball

For the past few years, I have had the pleasure to work alongside Beau Zimmer at WTSP. He's Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer's Grandson. From time to time, Beau offers me some tidbits about the Rays that he picks up from his Granddad and passes along to me.

The first tidbit I got from Beau was on Opening Day 2008. Beau, Matt, and I were attending some training on Florida's East Coast.  Our travel day to the training happened to be March 31, 2008, the day the Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles to kick off the 2008 campaign.  Earlier in the day as we started checking into our rooms, Beau mentioned that his grandfather really liked this year's team and thought they had the potential to be the best Rays team ever.  At the time I made a mental note, but given the Rays history, it may not have been a stretch.

As the 2008 wore on, I kept thinking back to Zim's prediction. It seemed be coming true. The 2008 squad was the best Rays team ever.

About half way through Spring Training in 2009, I decided to ask Beau what his Granddad thought of the 2009 team. Beau didn't have a good report. He said his Granddad wasn't as confident in the 2009 team as he was in the 2008 group. He said they were a little lackluster looking. 

At the time, I got all upset. How could Zim not possibly be excited about the 2009 team? They were just coming off the World Series. They had basically the same group, plus the much needed right-handed power DH they so sorely missed in 2008.  Of course, we all know how that turned out. The Rays missed the playoffs and played pretty much as Zim predicted during Spring Training: Lackluster.

Now that the precedent has been set, I was excited to hear what Zim thought of the 2010 group.  Beau came up to me today and said that his Granddad is really, really, really excited about this year's team. In fact, he really likes the pitching staff and thinks that the Rays have a real good chance of competing in the AL East this year.

It's still early. The pitchers and catchers have yet to report, but given his track record... I'm looking forward to Zim being right once again.

ESPN Officially Ga-Ga Over the 2010 Rays

Oh...and if a CC profile wasn't enough, ESPN also chronicled a Longo workout. This is easily the most offseason publicity and attention the Rays have ever received from Bristol.

They must agree with us that a big season is on the horizon for 2010. Thankfully, Longo is under the Rays control until 2016, unlike Crawford who is working his tail off for a big-time deal in 2011.

Whether that deal comes from the Rays, still remains to be seen. I wouldn't bet on it. Ah, why be a Debbie Downer in February? Let's enjoy Longo's workout:

CC to Be Even Faster in 2010?

On Sunday night, ESPN and "Baseball Tonight" spent A LOT of time on Carl Crawford and his efforts to be even faster in 2010.

Crawford is working with a trainer who showed him that in the second half of 2009, he was taking too much time in turning his left arm, thus he wasn't getting an efficient jump off of first base.

Barring injury, expect Crawford to have a HUGE 2010. I'm thinking possible MVP huge. He's in the last year of his contract, and is looking for a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. Here's the video:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

David vs 2 Goliaths

Silverman on tons of talent, dueling Goliaths and being a favorite elsewhere | The Heater

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David vs 2 Goliaths.

That's the gauntlet team president Matt Silverman threw down yesterday during a radio appearance just days before pitchers and catchers report.  Silverman says "he's never seen this much talent on a Rays club" and "we'd be the favorite in any other division in baseball."

Folks, that's big talk before the pitchers and catchers have even reported.

After last year, there's no doubt the Rays are the underdogs in the AL East. Nobody expects them to really compete with Red Sox and Yankees. In fact, if you ask most people (excluding Silverman), the Rays are still the "little brother" of the AL East. They'll always be in the trail of their big brothers. If they get to close, the big brothers will smack them down.

Going back to the David vs 2 Goliaths reference for a moment, how exactly can the Rays fight off 2 Goliaths? What will it take for this team to play "meaningful games in August, September, and October?" The answer, of course, is pitching. Specifically, starting pitching. Nobody will argue that there are some talented pitchers in the AL East, but the Rays may have the most solid 1-5 rotation in the East. The 2 Goliaths still have question marks in their 4 and 5 spots.  That could be the difference between winning a series against the A's in April that gives the Rays the wins they need to get in the playoffs.

It's still early. Plenty can happen between February and April. But, with the team president throwing out terms like "David vs 2 Goliaths," aren't you starting to get a little excited?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How pumped are you for baseball!

St. Petersburg, Florida - I just got an e-mail from the Rays with a list of important Spring Training dates. While it was nothing earth shattering, it did get me daydreaming about baseball.

This year promises to shake out real well. This is the year the Rays marked on the calendar to become a contender.  Evan Longoria is no longer a young rookie. Carl Crawford is vet looking toward his next contract. The starting pitchers now have some serious innings under their belt. And the Rays have a legitimite closer. This year promises to be a big year battling the Yankees and the Red Sox for the AL East.

Here's the schedule of events:

Thursday, February 18 Pre-spring training press conference with Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman,
Charlotte Sports Park, noon

Friday, February 19 First workout, pitchers and catchers, 10 a.m. (all other workouts, 9:30 a.m.)

Saturday, February 20 Fan Fest Tropicana Field, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wednesday, February 24 First full-squad workout, 9:30 a.m.

Friday, February 26 Photo Day, 7:30 a.m.

Monday, March 1 2010 Rays Charity Golf Classic, Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club in Bradenton, noon

The Super Bowl officially ends football season this weekend, now we can start looking toward some baseball. Go Rays!

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