Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Dear Baseball, I Hope This Column Finds You Well in These Uncertain Times

Dear Baseball, it is me Ryan.

I know it has been a while since we have seen each other at the Ballpark. These are definitely crazy times. I hope you are doing well.

I have been thinking a lot about the fun we used to have together back before the world was turned upside down by that uninvited party crasher COVID-19.

Remember that time my mom had me called out of class in elementary school so I could see you in a Spring Training game  between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles for my birthday? The entire time I was walking to the exit of the school I thought for sure that someone in my family had died. Imagine my relief when I learned that everyone was alive and well, and I was getting to spend an afternoon at the Ballpark with you.

One of my best baseball memories was getting Earl Weaver’s autograph at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memory that makes me smile, is that time you gave me the opportunity to meet Earl Weaver on the third base side of Tinker Field. I was definitely start struck at meeting a man I considered to be larger than life, but I was relieved to learn that he was fairly down to earth, and was not just the fiery dirt kicking, base throwing manager I had seen on TV.

Baseball, you have not yet afforded me the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., but I guess I will let that one slide since you did give me such good memories following his career during “The Streak” and beyond.

Sadly, not all of my encounters with the men who played you were as encouraging as meeting “The Earl of Baltimore.” Through my attempt to meet Frank Robinson, you taught me the valuable lesson that not everyone who wears your uniform is a hero to be looked up to.

While it is entirely possible that the outcome would have been different on another day, my attempt to meet Frank Robinson soured my opinion of the man, and taught me a valuable lesson in the dangers of heroes letting you down.
Photo R. Anderson

It was a hard lesson for me to learn at the time, but it has helped me separate talent for the game from being a hero off the field. It is possible to respect what a player can do on the field without expecting them to be perfect off the field.

There are of course players who shine both on the field and off, but you let me see that those people are exceptions to treasure, versus the rule.

My joy in you was not limited to just being in the Ballpark. I spent hours collecting your cards and trying to compile complete sets of them each year. I kept checklists in my wallet to know which cards I needed whenever I would find myself at a card shop. I even tried my hand a running a small card shop in my neighborhood for my friends. Grandstand Cards was my first business venture, but it was far from my last.

Every Saturday I rode my bike to the neighborhood 7-11 for powdered doughnuts, a Sunny-D, some baseball cards, and a comic book. Those were much simpler times. While I cherished those days at the time, I cherish them even more now.

I still have those cards, as well as the team scrapbooks that I made for the Orlando Sun Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Each time I pull them off the shelf the memories return, and I am transported back to those days of going to the local baseball card shop, and sitting in those well-worn grandstands at Tinker Field.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While my three seasons of attempting to play you did not lead to All-Star numbers, you taught me that I could make a career out of telling your story through the various news outlets I worked for.

You even gave me the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship as a collegiate baseball team manager, which a younger me turned down to go to a different school. It all worked out in the end, and to this day I can still legitimately say that I turned down a full-ride baseball scholarship. I just leave out the part about it not being as a player.

Then there was that 21-inning high school playoff game that I covered as a high school reporter at the old Baseball City Stadium. Man, I sure learned my lesson that night about not leaving the warmth of the press box before the final out. I spent 12 extra innings freezing behind the dugout while my colleagues mocked me from their warm perch.

Despite that unseasonably cold Florida night, and all the other nights shivering in your stands, you taught me that one of life’s simple pleasures is sitting in your Ballparks and getting caught up in the action. You also taught me to never write the lead to an article while the game is still going on, since very few leads are safe once teams are forced to go to the bullpen.

I also learned from you, Baseball, that whenever possible, get a seat in the Ballpark next to the scouts. The times I have been seated in the scout section at Spring Training and Minor League games, I have been entertained by hours of stories of baseball behind the curtains. Sadly, scouts are a dying breed as more and more of your teams are taking a strictly statistical look at how you are played, versus relying on gut feel.

Very little tops a day at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, you have given me the chance to interview many coaches and players. Some of them gave thoughtful answers, while others allowed me to play cliché bingo.

One manager even trusted me enough to write my own quotes for what I thought he would say. To keep it real, I even included some clichés in his quotes. At the end of the season of covering his team, he invited me into his office and said that he had never sounded better than he did when I “quoted him.”

I have thought a lot lately about those post-game interviews under the unforgiving Florida and Texas sun, as well as the interview in the rain that killed my recorder right after I transcribed the quotes. On that day Baseball, you taught me to never rely solely on a recorder, but to write down quotes in real time as well.

Just when I think that you have run out of things to teach me, Baseball, you give me new lessons through this delay in the action brought about by COVID-19. Through the virus you have taught me that player strikes are not the only thing that can cause the games to stop, and that we should not take you for granted when you do return.

More importantly, Baseball, you have reminded us that there are more important things than you, and your other sport siblings. Taking care of ourselves and others is far more important, no matter how badly we want to throw caution to the wind and cram inside your hallowed halls and watch you “play ball” once again.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it as part of a test with Major League Baseball..
Photo R. Anderson

When you do return, Baseball, either this year, or next year, some people will no doubt continue to complain that your games are too long, that pitchers need  to not take so long between pitches, and that umpires need a robotic voice in their head telling them how to call balls and strikes.

Ignore those people, Baseball, and try to resist the calls to constantly tinker with your game. Part of what makes you perfect are your perfect imperfections, and the fact that there is no game clock to say when the game ends.

Baseball, you will come back stronger, and will once again fill those summer nights with the sights, sounds and smells, of the National Pastime.

Hang in there Baseball, I know we will see each other again soon when it is safe to do so. Until then, thanks for the memories you have given me so far, and thanks in advance for the memories yet to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some powdered doughnuts and Sunny-D.

Sincerely yours,

Ryan

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 2

As the world of sports continues to look into ways to safely return fans into their facilities thanks to the COVID-19 virus, sports fans are left to wait and wonder when they can return to their local Ballparks and Stadiums and raise their souvenir cups high.

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

Since catching my first Major League Baseball game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I have visited a lot of Ballparks. There are still many more Ballparks I want to see.
Photo R. Anderson

My Bucket List of ballparks was already pretty extensive, but as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

I unveiled the five Ballparks I want to see again in Part 1. Today, in Part 2, I unveil the five Ballparks that I have never visited, but in some cases, have wanted to see for years.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the main Ballpark on my Bucket List that I want to visit.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are many Ballparks that I want to visit, the one that has topped my list pretty much from the time it was built is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I was raised as a Baltimore Orioles fan, and saw my first Major League game at Memorial Stadium where the Orioles played prior to making the move to Camden Yards.

Once I moved to Florida, Spring Training meant trips to see the Orioles at Tinker Field, and later at Ed Smith Stadium. I have even seen the Orioles play regular season games against the Astros in Houston and against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Still, the one venue that has eluded me is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Ballpark started the movement for single use Ballparks, and includes a distinctive warehouse wall feature which the Astros mimicked when they built their new Ballpark at the site of the old Union Station. As soon as I am able, and the world gets a little more stability, I will board that big blue Boeing 737 nonstop from Houston to Baltimore to catch a game, enjoy an Esskay hotdog, and some crab cakes smothered in Old Bay. On a positive since the Orioles have struggled mightily the last few seasons, it is likely that the Ballpark will not be full which should allow me to really explore as I check it off of my Bucket List.

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Proximity to Space Coast Stadium allowed me the chance to see many Washington Nationals Spring Training games when I lived in Florida. However, I have yet to see the 2019 World Series Champions play at Nationals Park.
Photo R. Anderson

When I lived in Maryland, the Washington Senators had already fled to Texas to become the Rangers, after replacing the version of the Senators that fled to Minnesota to become the Twins.

Additionally, the Washington Nationals went by the name of the Montreal Expos, so the ability to catch a game at Nationals Park would have been rather difficult since neither the Ballpark, nor the team existed. But from the time that the Nationals arrived on the scene, I embraced them with the full vigor that one would for a long-lost friend.

My fandom of the Nationals was further entrenched after my mom reminded me one day that since we had lived closer to Washington D.C. than Baltimore, had the Nats existed when I lived in Maryland, I likely would have followed them instead of the Orioles, or I would have followed them both. When I lived in Florida the Nats had Spring Training less than an hour away from where I lived, which made catching games easy. Even after moving to Texas I continued to catch the Nats whenever I traveled to Florida for Spring Training.

When the Nats made their magical World Series run against the Houston Astros in 2019, I certainly got nasty looks as I wore my Nats gear proudly around the Houston suburbs but my fandom was well entrenched by then and as the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, and the trash can gonna bang, bang, bang.” So when I make the trip to Oriole Park, I will be sure to stay in town long enough to catch a game at Nationals Park as well while I am there.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX

The Texas Rangers traded in their quaint, furnace of a Ballpark for a retractable roof version next door. When the scoreboard says it is 108 degrees outside it will be nice to catch a game in air conditioned comfort.
Photo R. Anderson

The third Ballpark I want to visit for the first time is Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers.

I attended games at Globe Life Park, which the Rangers previously called home, and left each game a few pounds lighter than when I went in based on the triple digit heat, and the general lack of air circulation within the lower bowl of the Ballpark.

The Rangers decided that their under 30-year old Ballpark was not conducive to the climate in the Dallas Metroplex and a retractable roof Ballpark was built next door. Globe Life Park briefly served as the home of the Dallas XFL team, but with the XFL gone Globe Life Park will be two teams short.

While some could argue that based on the hard to miss similarities between the design of Globe Life Field and Minute Maid Park, I have already seen the new facility, I still want to visit it. Whenever I do make it up to Arlington it will definitely be nice to experience a Rangers game for once without needing to bring a dry set of clothes for the drive home.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

During my previous trip to Vancouver, British Columbia I had poutine in Stanley Park. During my next visit to Vancouver I hope to have poutine in the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While the previous three ballparks on the list have all been on the Major League level, my fourth Bucket List Ballpark that I want to visit takes us north of the border, and also down to Class A in the Minor Leagues.

Nat Bailey Stadium, located smack dab in the center of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the home of the Vancouver Canadians, who are the Class A Toronto Blue Jays farm team.  A few years back, I had the opportunity to catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game in Vancouver. Catching a BC Lions CFL game in Vancouver is also on my Bucket List, so it is only natural that I would want to see baseball north of the border as well.

Taking my baseball fandom international will certainly be an experience to treasure. Of course, traveling all the way to Canada just to see a Minor League baseball game would likely be rather silly in the big picture. Good thing that there are many other items on the list for things to do on the trip besides the game. I just hope they serve poutine at the Ballpark. Something tells me that they do.

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Washington Nationals have a Farm Team named the Harrisburg Senators who play on an island. As long as I don’t have to take a boat called the S.S. Minnow to get there count me in.
Photo R. Anderson

The final Ballpark on the list is FNB Field in Harrisburg, PA. FNB Field is the home field of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals,

The Ballpark has been on my Bucket List for several years based on a) it being a Washington Nationals farm team and b) it is located on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.  I mean, a Ballpark in the middle of a river. How cool is that?

I still have the program from my first Major League Baseball Game. between the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers.  It is one of many programs that I have collected through the years. In the years to come I look forward to collecting even more programs, ticket stubs, and souvenir cups as I travel around to various Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

If I plan really carefully, I can likely catch a game on the island during the same trip where I go see Oriole Park and Nationals Park. Three days of Esskay hot dogs, Old Bay lump blue crab cakes, and Utz cheese curls sounds pretty spectacular right about now.

Of course, visiting any Ballpark will be welcome once the all-clear is given on this terrible virus that has taken far too many lives, and forever impacted the lives that it hasn’t taken.

Stay safe. Stay smart, and I will see you at a Ballpark in the not too distant future.  Until then, may your dreams involve Ballparks with all you can eat popcorn and unlimited soda refills.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check to see if we are still keeping track of the days of the week.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 1

For the past five years, I have traveled an average of one to two weeks a month. During this time, I saw a lot of hotel rooms, drove a lot of rental cars, and most impressively I mastered the art of snagging a coveted aisle seat close to the front of a completely full Southwest Airlines flight.  On those rare occasions when the seat next to me on the flight was empty, I felt like I had won the lottery as I crisscrossed North America during the carefree days before COVID-19.

Over a five-year span I logged a lot of miles in blue planes just like this one.
Photo R. Anderson

Many of those trips involved visits to Ballparks and other sporting venues. I saw Major League games at Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, Tropicana Field and Coors Field. I caught Minor League games in Colorado Springs and Port Charlotte, among other places.

For good measure, I even visited four hockey arenas. While Coolio sang of living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise,” I was truly spending most my time living in a sports fan paradise.

The era of the non-retractable roof Ballpark as fallen out of fashion in recent years. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is truly the last of its kind. Based on historically low attendance some might argue that the Trop was the first Ballpark to engage in social distancing.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that carefree ability to cram into full arenas, full ballparks, and even full blue Boeing 737s, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

Large gatherings of people at sporting events would be the perfect storm for community spread of the virus. So out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to congregate for a while once the sports world reopens.

I can totally respect that since, a) I really don’t feel like getting sick just so I can see a game in person, and b) drinking Dr Pepper with a straw through a hole in my officially licensed MLB face covering does not sound like fun.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX has a scoreboard that reminds people what state they are in. This can be helpful for fans who become disoriented from the heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigaplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

My Bucket list of Ballparks I wanted to visit was already pretty extensive. However, as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see when the world reopens.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

For the first installment of our series, I have chosen to look at the five Ballparks I want to see again. While I will always enjoy finding new Ballparks to visit, I also enjoy returning to some old favorites. The five Ballparks on this list are ones that I would visit for every game if I had the chance.

Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX

A mascot with a water gun is the perfect combo for baseball in triple degree heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Located just a smidge too far away from the gigaplex for me to be a season ticket holder, Constellation Field plays home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

With reasonable prices on tickets, food, and souvenirs, a game inside Constellation Field won’t break most piggy banks. The action on the field is exciting, and the mid-inning promotions staff provides the usual Minor League Baseball standards to keep the fans entertained.

I do take issue with the team getting rid of the carousel in Center Field a few years ago, but aside from that, this little ballpark is pretty much perfect for catching a game. The Ballpark is in Texas so it does get hot during day games in the summer, but there are thankfully ways to stay cool including a splash pad and air conditioned areas.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Though it is criticized by many, I find Tropicana Field to be a pleasant place to catch a game while also feeding some wildlife.
Photo R. Anderson

Tropicana Field gets a lot of flak from a lot of people. They complain about the location of the facility as well as the fact that it is one of the last of the multi use large domes that once dotted the sports landscape from coast to coast.

While domes in Houston, Seattle, and Minnesota have given way to single use baseball fields, courtesy of the Ballpark renaissance kicked off by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field stands as a reminder of what a certain era of Ballpark design looked like. While the Trop has haters, I actually like the Ballpark. It was one of the first facilities to allow people to bring in their own food and also offers an unlimited refill policy on soft drinks.

Paying tribute to the days when the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Devil Rays, there is even a Ray touch and feeding tank in center field.  Plus, it is hard to beat catching a game in air-conditioned comfort and staying dry during those hot and wet Florida summers that last from March to November.

Coors Field, Denver, CO

During my lone trip to Coors Field I hit a triple with a Pepsi, a hot dog, and a bobblehead.
Photo R. Anderson

Next up is Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I have only had the pleasure of attending one game at this Ballpark. It was a day game during a Colorado heat wave and the vendors were selling equal amounts of beverages and sunscreen.

From what I could see through my sun screen irritated eyes, the Ballpark has a lot to offer. The game I attended included a bobblehead giveaway, as well as a race between people dressed up as the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Not too shabby.

Coors Field made the list, based on my desire to catch a night game at the Ballpark and to have time to explore more of the amenities without feeling like I was every bit of a mile closer to the surface of the sun.

Dr Pepper Ballpark, Frisco, TX

Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX is a great venue to catch a game, just try to avoid day games in August.
Photo R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Ballpark is home of the Frisco Rough Riders, who are the Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It has been several years since I made the drive up to the Ballpark located in a suburb of Dallas, but it is a drive well rough making.

The Ballpark features bullpens that are surrounded by seats so fans can really get a close look at the pitchers warming up. The facility also includes a lazy river and a pool, which is perfect for the sweltering heat that the Dallas Metroplex is famous for.

One major plus of Dr Pepper Ballpark, is the availability to have a cold and refreshing Dr Pepper. I am sure there are people who do not mind Pibb Xtra, but for me it has to be Dr Pepper. With the headquarters for Dr Pepper being located next door in Plano, TX, I feel pretty confident that the Ballpark will keep serving Dr Pepper for years to come.

Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola, FL

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and  has a waterfront view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Blue Wahoos Stadium is home to the Blue Wahoos, a Class Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Ballpark is one of my favorites for many reasons. The location right on the bay is hard to beat.

The concessions are top notch. The Ballpark itself is beautiful and has been named best ballpark in the country by numerous outlets, including being a three-time recipient of the Southern League Ballpark of the Year award. The Ballpark is the smallest facility in the Southern League and this creates an intimate fan experience.

I try to visit Pensacola as often as I can. When the world reopens, and it is safe to move about the country once again, Pensacola will be one of the first trips that I make. Southern League Baseball has always been my favorite league since catching Orlando Sun Rays games with my mom at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Blue Wahoos allow me to keep that tradition alive once every other year or so.

These five Ballparks are definitely places I would go to again and again. There are other Ballparks that I could have included as well on my list of places I love catching a game at.  Be sure to return Friday when I will reveal the five venues that I want to visit for the first time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Ballparks has me craving a hot dog and some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Triple B Flashback: The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Hinchcliffe Wreck Shows Risk of Injuries are Part of Everyday Life for Athletes

Every day life is full of risks if one really stops to think about it.

There is the risk of stubbing one’s toe while fumbling in the dark all the way to the risk that someone will run into the back of your car while you are stopped at a light.

For professional athletes there are the every day toe stubbing risks that the average person faces along with the risk that in some cases they might be seriously injured or even die at work due to the inherent risks associated with what they do for a living.

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner's Circle after the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business. Photo R. Anderson

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner’s Circle during the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, police officers, firefighters, and members of the military are among the many professions who also put their life’s at risk so in no way do I want to come across as saying that athletes are the only ones with risky professions.

There are countless men and women working tirelessly at dangerous jobs every day who deserve our thanks for keeping us protected.

Usually their jobs do not have them in arenas full of screaming fans while they perform the risky work though. In that way professional athletes really are in a league of their own when it comes to performing risky behavior in front of the masses.

One of those athletes who does risky work in front of the masses, Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe, is in the Intensive Care Unit of an Indiana hospital following a violent crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 Monday.

Hinchcliffe, or Hinch as he is known to many of his fans, suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh after a piece of the car’s suspension assembly pierced the driver cockpit, or tub, and went through his leg causing severe soft tissue damage and rupturing arteries.

According to some published reports after his car’s right front suspension failed, Hinchcliffe hit the wall with a force of 125 Gs and was likely traveling more than 220 mph when he hit the wall. It should be noted that G forces above 100, even in short bursts, can be fatal in some cases.

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday. Photo R. Anderson

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday.
Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the fast action of the safety crew it is entirely possible that Hinch could have died from his injuries due to the blood loss associated with a ruptured artery.

While Hinch is alive thanks in part to enhanced safety features and procedures to handle injuries like his, it is likely that there will be new safety features added to the Indy Cars after the cause of the latest crash are revealed.

However Indy Cars will never be 100 percent safe any more than athletes in other sports can be 100 percent protected from the risks of getting seriously injured in their chosen fields.

Recent lawsuits from former NFL players show that injuries from playing sports can sometimes take years to manifest themselves as is the case with players stating that they are suffering from the effects of head trauma long after their playing careers have ended.

In response the NFL has new concussion protocols in place to try to lessen the risk of injury to current players from head trauma.

In baseball there has been a rash of injuries the last few years with batters and pitchers getting injured after having their heads and jaws make contact with a baseball traveling at high velocity.

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by  a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ's hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players. Photo R Anderson

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ’s hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players.
Photo R Anderson

In response to the increase in head injuries Major League Baseball is developing new protective head gear that can be worn by both batters and pitchers to help lessen the impact of a ball to the head.

The actions by the NFL and MLB to protect their players is certainly to be commended but no system can totally prevent injury when it comes to sports.

This is not to say that all motorsports and contact sports such as football should be deemed unsafe and banned any more than I should have to bubble wrap my home to avoid injury from bumping into things in the dark.

The trick is to make things as safe as humanly possible for the athletes involved so that they can live to play, or in Hinchcliffe’s case, drive, another day.

Sports are much safer today than they were 10 years ago and 10 years from now they will be even safer. Innovations will continue to evolve in the world of sports as well as other fields.

As long as people learn and improve from each accident and injury than they serve a purpose in helping the industry as a whole become safer. Failure to learn from the issues would be a far more devastating scenario.

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries. Photo R. Anderson

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries.
Photo R. Anderson

I had the opportunity to meet Hinch when I worked with the Grand Prix of Houston. While platitudes are certainly thrown around a lot, I can say that James Hinchcliffe is one of the most easy going athletes I have encountered in any sport and is one of those athletes who seems to really enjoy what they are doing and understands that it is a privilege to get to do what they do for a living.

The road back to driving an Indy Car will not be an easy one but Hinch has shown time and time again that he has an ability to handle those turns with the greatest of ease. I would not count the Mayor of Hinch Town out just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to move a few things so that I do not bump into them tonight.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Bringing Cinematic Sunshine to a Cold, Gray Day

In the musical/movie, Annie, the title character sings a song about the sun coming out the day after today.

While the song about a sunshine filled tomorrow has more to do with an orphan’s wish for better days during the Great Depression than actual meteorology, for many people the gray days of winter have them wishing that they could bet their bottom dollar to get the sun to come out.

This is the plight I have found myself in the last couple of weeks as my section of Texas has had more gray skies than blue skies.

And while the gray in the sky has me asking just who stole my sunshine, there is one place where the sun always shines and the grass is always green.

I am referring to the world of cinematic baseball where even when a movie is filmed during the winter the action on the screen invokes warm days and clear skies.

To be clear not all baseball games are warm. I have sat through many cold early season baseball games including a particularly cold Pensacola night but somehow even freezing at a Ballpark seems warmer than just walking around on a gray day.

There is just something about a Ballpark that warms one down to the core.

In the spirit of seeking sunshine and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day.

That equates to about 12 weeks of cinematic baseball to get you in the mood for the arrival of the Boys of Summer in April.

Today we kick off our 12 week countdown to opening day with Bleacher Bums.

The film follows a group of season ticket holders over the course of a season and explores the interpersonal relationships that develop when you spend several hours a week surrounded by people who share a common interest, in this case baseball.

I have often said that baseball is a sport that is best experienced live at the Ballpark. There are so many sights, sounds, smells and other sensory sensations that just can’t be captured on television.

But in the spirit of our quest for cinematic sunshine Bleacher Bums can provide that in Ballpark feeling. You may want to have some hot dogs and popcorn available to fully recreate the sitting in the bleachers feeling.

While the actual baseball scenes in the movie offer a few errors, the film connects on the interaction of fans and the conversations that often break out during the course of a game.

Through the years just as I think I have heard almost everything imaginable in a Ballpark something new is overheard from my seat and I am reminded of Bleacher Bums and how it captures the Ballpark conversations to a science.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to check the weather forecast once more to see if there is any sunshine coming in the 10-day forecast.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Derek Jeter Walks off into Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether,  could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Spending Summer’s Last Gasp at the Ballpark

Today marks the first day of fall.

By and large fall, or autumn if you prefer, is my favorite season.

I enjoy the changing leaves, and the chill in the air, along with the various pumpkin flavored items that hit the grocery stores and restaurants this time of year to mark the season.

Of course having lived in Florida and Texas for the majority of my life, I usually have to settle on pumpkin flavored ice cream and chilled apple cider since for the most part  temperatures are still too hot for changing leaves and breaking out the fall coats.

But when I lived in Maryland as a much younger version of myself, I would visit the local apple orchard and pumpkin patch each year on school trips and jump into leaf piles that were above my head.

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows.
Photo R. Anderson

I may yet return someday to a land where autumn and other seasons exist but for now I will take part in the two Texas seasons of hot and not quite as hot.

So on the last day of summer with temperatures still in the low 90’s, I decided to mark the occasion with a baseball game.

After all baseball players are often referred to as the Boys of Summer so what could be more American than baseball to mark the end of summer?

When it came down to picking where to catch this fall eve last gasp of summer game I had the choice between the Houston Astros or the Sugar Land Skeeters since both teams were in town.

In true Robert Frost poem fashion it was much like I was standing before two roads, one well-traveled and one less traveled.

Were I to choose the more traveled road of the Astros, I would be watching a meaningless game in a mostly empty air conditioned Ballpark that seats 45,000 or so as the Astros went through the motions of finishing out another losing season that cannot end soon enough for players and fans alike.

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday. Photo R. Anderson

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

On the other hand, were I to choose the less traveled road that led to the Skeeters, I would be watching a game outside as nature intended in a much more fan-filled Ballpark as the Skeeters battled to clinch the Second Half division title.

With choices like that it was easy to pick the Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball over the Major League Baseball Astros.

That is not to say that I have completely given up on the Astros, but with some of the front office moves made by the team lately it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify spending MLB type money to see a lesser product.

I will continue to wish the Astros well in their rebuilding effort but for now will be voting with my wallet by not supporting them in person until they make more strides towards being a competitive team. That will not stop me from visiting Minute Maid Park next year to see my Orioles and Rays play however.

While many of the recent players for the Astros seem to be in over their heads at times as they try to establish their careers many of the players for Skeeters are just trying to hold on to their careers a little longer.

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.  Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Photo R. Anderson

Players in the Atlantic League for the most part will not be confused with Major League All-Stars, with the exception of Scott Kazmir who parlayed a stint with the Skeeters into a return to the MLB All-Star Game.

Rosters are comprised of former Major Leaguers and other players who could not find a place on an affiliated team roster for whatever reason.

The play in independent leagues, such as the one the Skeeters call home, can sometimes be sloppy with routine plays turning into errors on occasion but for the most part the errors even out as both teams are making them.

But what the players lack in polished skills they more than make up for in heart and determination. That is not to say that there are not Major League baseball players who play with heart and determination but as a whole those seem to be the exception.

Consider this, with entire team salaries far below what a single Major League Baseball player would make the men who make up the Skeeters roster are playing for the love of the game and the chance to put on a show each night for a couple of thousand fans under the lights.

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence. Photo R. Anderson

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence.
Photo R. Anderson

They know that their playing careers are finite but while they can they will continue to play the game that many of them have played as far back as they can remember.

So with these reasons in mind my last day of summer was spent under the sun watching the Skeeters defeat the York Revolution to clinch that division title for a berth in the playoffs.

I will take a game with players giving their all on every play over a game with players going through the motions every time. Also, a reasonably priced concession stand does not hurt either.

Two game diverged in a field, and I – I took the one where the players have the most heart. And that has made all the difference.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some playoff tickets to buy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Are Tampa Bay Rays in the Midst of an Epic Meltdown or on the Verge of a Historic Comeback?

For the first decade of their existence the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were bad, really bad.

How bad?

So bad that if the Devil Rays early years were put to music they could easily include the lyrics stink, stank, stunk.

So bad that in those first 10 seasons of play, from 1998 to 2007, the team failed to end a single season with a winning record. In fact the most victories came in 2004 when they won 70 games.

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being  called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008. Photo R. Anderson

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008.
Photo R. Anderson

But in a musical about face worthy of a Kenny Rogers song, the Devil Rays became the Rays in 2008 and they turned it around by not only posting the team’s first ever winning record but also managing to win the American League Pennant and earning a trip to the World Series in the process.

Since that turning around in 2008 the Rays have posted winning records in every season that followed and have made some more playoff runs to boot.

While they have yet to match the World Series run of 2008, the Rays have remained a threat to win the ultra-competitive American League East Division or Wild Card for the past six years.

That brings us to this year and a bit of history repeating as the Rays, who were predicated as World Series favorites by many experts, have taken an Olympic sized nose dive due to injuries and spotty offense that have them looking less like a perennial playoff threat and more like the Devil Rays of old.

With some key players lost for the season, and others going on and off of the disabled list with unusual frequency, the Rays have had their share of setbacks to overcome during the first quarter of the season.

In addition to injuries the Rays have had to battle through offensive slumps that have rendered many of the bats in the lineup silent.

Instead of being on track for the playoffs the Rays currently possess the worst record in all of baseball heading into a three game series against the Houston Astros.

It should be noted that the Astros started getting really bad around the same time that the Rays got really good.

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball,  will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball, will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

After losing over 100 games for the past three years, the Astros are on pace to break even this season and possibly even post a winning record for the first time in years.

When the schedules were announced for the season few people would have believed that the Astros would have won five more games than the Rays heading into their weekend series.

After spending more on payroll than the frugal Rays had previously done, there were great expectations for this season. While the Rays could yet right the sinking ship that has become their 2014 season with each mounting loss the calls to trade away players grow louder as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

While the Rays are faced will calls to trade away players in return for prospects each season it is likely that a failure to return to competitive play could result in several current players being sent to new surroundings in July.

It is of course unfair to surmise that the Rays current rough season marks a return to the years of losing records. Teams have bad years now and then for a variety of reasons and usually bounce back within a year or two so there is no need to dust off those old Devil Rays jerseys just yet.

One need only look at the Boston Red Sox who won a World Series after suffering through an abysmal season the year before to see that one rough season is no cause to think that the sky is falling on a franchise.

The Rays still have time to turn the season around this year and have been known for late season heroics that have propelled them to victory in the past however the time to make that turnaround is decreasing.

A sweep by the Astros this weekend would likely be a huge blow for the Rays and would continue the downward spiral while a sweep by the Rays would be just the thing to move the season forward.

Time will tell which direction the weekend goes for the Rays but with each passing game the since of urgency grows a bit more to return to a culture of winning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson