Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

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

Triple B Flashback: Orioles Rout White Sox and No One is There to Hear

Editor’s Note:  For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 2 on our countdown is a column from April 29, 2015.

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Pak at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop.

Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a "home" series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals. Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

Orioles Rout White Sox and No One is There to Hear

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Pak at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop. Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a "home" series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals. Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Baseball Movie Monday is All about Second Chances this Week

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season, we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness looks at what happens when one gets a second chance to follow a dream.

Today we return to the world of real events captured on film as part of our journey to what we feel are the best baseball movie of all time.

While there is certainly no shortage of baseball movies about real people, the quest for a second chance often rings throughout the narrative of many of these movies which is certainly the case with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.

While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was The Rookie.

The Rookie ells the true life tale of a high school baseball coach from Texas getting to live out his dream of pitching in the big leagues for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after he thought that his dream had been shattered following an injury.

As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible.

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.  Photo R. Anderson

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.

After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), blows out his shoulder ending his hopes of achieving his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.

Fast forward a few years to 1999 and Morris is now married with three children, is a high school science teacher, and is the head baseball coach in Big Lake, TX.

After discovering that Morris can still bring the heat, his players offer him a deal that if they make the state playoffs, Morris will try out again for the Major Leagues.

After the Owls make the playoffs, Morris tries out for the Devil Rays and after being signed to a Minor League contract is assigned to the Class AA Orlando Rays (now the Montgomery Biscuits). After a quick stop in Orlando Morris moves up to the AAA Durham Bulls.

In September Jim is told that the Major League club has called him up, and that they will be playing in Texas against the Rangers. In true Hollywood fashion Morris makes his Major League debut against the Rangers in front of many of his friends and family who traveled to see his debut.

Morris pitched for the Devil Rays for a couple of years before finally hanging up his glove for the final time.

The movie and real life story of Jim Morris show that it is never too late for one to chase their dreams, which is an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind and is what makes The Rookie worthy to be on our countdown.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Ben Zobrist Traded from Tampa Bay Rays to Oakland A’s

Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays continued their A to Z roster rebuild by trading long-time fan favorite Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics.

The Zobrist trade is the latest move in a busy offseason for the Rays.

Since October the Rays have had to find replacements for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Joe Maddon, who is now manager of the Chicago Cubs.

After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A's this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster. Photo R. Anderson

After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A’s this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster.
Photo R. Anderson

Friedman and Maddon were the two people who were most often credited with the turnaround of the Rays. Under their tenure the Rays experienced their first winning seasons in team history along with some trips to the playoffs including a World Series appearance in 2008.

With the departures of Maddon and Friedman a sort of free for all trading of players ensued as the new president and manager sought to put their stamp on the franchise.

In addition to Zobrist, the Rays have also parted ways this offseason with their 2014 Opening day right fielder, left fielder, second baseman, catcher, shortstop along with six pitchers. By any calculation that is a very busy two and a half months.

With months to go before the start of the season it is entirely possible that even move roster moves will be made before Opening Day.

The only safe player on the roster appears to be Evan Longoria at third base but something tells me that the Rays would even entertain offers for him if they felt they could get enough prospects in return.

If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the moves have stung to varying degrees, the Zobrist trade is perhaps the most puzzling.

By all account Ben Zobrist was one of the most popular members of the Rays organization having spent his entire nine-year career as a super utility player filling whatever spot in the infield or outfield needed him.

Off the field he was involved in numerous outreach programs within the committee showing that he was more than just a player there for a paycheck.

Speaking of that paycheck though, Zobrist was due to be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and was certainly due for a raise in salary.

While the baseball economists will say that small market teams like the Rays need to trade players like Zobrist to get value in return instead of watching them depart in free agency.

The business model the Rays seem to embrace is shedding some salary and gaining some prospects in return that they hope will turn into Major Leaguers that they can sign on the cheap and then trade away when they are due for a raise. Lather, rinse, repeat and hope all goes to plan. That is far from an ideal way to run a fan driven business.

The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways.
Photo R. Anderson

Despite the focus on television contracts and corporate sponsorships as revenue streams the fact remains that teams still need fans to be successful.

Most fans understand that baseball is a business and roster moves need to be made from time to time but when fans continue to see their favorite players traded year after year they can start to resent the organization.

In college athletics, especially basketball and football, turnover is extremely high as players leave college early to start their professional careers.

In the professional ranks however fans do not want to have to learn an entire roster every year.

Of course fall out from trading popular players like David Price last year and Ben Zobrist this year are far from the only issues facing the Rays who seem one the cusp of returning to their devilish losing ways.

Before when the Rays made their famous midseason salary dumping trades there were still enough key pieces left on the roster to absorb the losses. History also showed that the traded players seemed to struggle after leaving the Rays leading to the belief that the trade worked out in favor of the Rays.

But as the trades became more frequent, the remaining roster was left weaker and the returns diminished.

Instead of a team poised to win the American League East Division year after the year, the Rays find themselves once again as sellers among a retooling division that is adding pieces at a breakneck pace.

Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader. Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader.
Photo R. Anderson

Most teams go through a natural process of up and down years so a couple of bad seasons will not necessarily spell doom for the Rays but any prolonged losing streak risks further alienating a fan base and making it more difficult to get the new Ballpark they so desperately want full of those suites for the big corporate sponsors.

There is no doubt that should Ballpark discussions continue to break down in St. Petersburg, cities like Montreal and Charlotte will be all too happy to make room for the Rays.

Montreal and Charlotte are certainly both good cities and both have a long history of supporting baseball but I do not think either of them should get the Rays.

Personally I hope that the Rays enjoy a long and prosperous run in the Sunshine State and return to their winning ways sooner rather than later. Failure to do that may mark the end of Major League Baseball on the west coast of Florida leaving the Miami Marlins as the only Florida based MLB team.

Of course should the Rays make the trek up to Montreal, I hope they put heaters in the sting ray tank and find a warm winter coat for DJ Kitty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new roster to learn.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Cyber Monday Deals of the Baseball Variety

Today is known across much of the internet connected world as Cyber Monday.

While Black Friday involves sales from the brick and mortar stores, today is the chance for online retailers to lure shoppers in with discounts and free shipping on everything from Apple Computers to Zenith televisions. (Granted Zenith is now owned by LG but I needed something that started with the letter Z for the sake of an A to Z analogy).

Personally I have never understood the herd mentality that has people camping out at stores to save a few bucks on an off brand appliance or some fleece pullovers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but I am not going to body check hundreds of other people trying to get the same item.

Online shopping provides the ability to get deals without feeling like one has survived a heavyweight title fight but it still only includes savings on the items that the retailers want you to buy.

So instead of getting corralled into buying things that I don’t need on this Cyber Monday I am going to focus on four baseball teams and what needs they should address in terms of their holiday shopping.

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year. Photo R. Anderson

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Let us begin with the defending American League East Division winning Baltimore Orioles.

Earlier today it was announced that the O’s had failed to sign free agent Nelson Cruz. Instead Cruz is taking his league leading home run bat west to Seattle for the next four years.

In the end it may prove to have been a wise decision by the Orioles to not overpay for a slugger who has battled injures throughout his career. Recent history is full of examples of teams who have overpaid for players long past their productive years. The contracts of Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder come to mind.

But in the short term the Orioles need to do something to replace the bat of Cruz if they want to defend their division title so for the residents of Birdland I will put find a new Designated Hitter on their Christmas list.

Further down the American League East in both geography and the standings sit the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have already traded several players since the end of the season and will likely make more tweaks to the roster as they look to regroup and rebuild after a disappointing 2014 season that started with preseason predictions of a playoff run and ended with the team’s first losing season in six years. The Rays were also left with the departure of manager Joe Maddon, who decided to take his muscle cars and hoodie up to Wrigley Field.

While it is unlikely that the Rays can find a manager right out of the gate with the same skill set as Joe Maddon, they need to find a manager who can handle the challenges the Rays face in a way that sees them remain competitive and not fall into the devilish ways of their pre Maddon years.

Failure to find a strong manager who can find a way to remain competitive in the toughest division in baseball against retooled Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox could very well doom the Rays for decades to come.

So while many may think replacing Tropicana Field is the team’s biggest need this Christmas, I maintain finding the right manager is the most crucial holiday need. I just hope that one of the three identified finalists becomes at least a fraction of the manager Joe Maddon is.

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways. Photo R. Anderson

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways.
Photo R. Anderson

If he does not then even a new Ballpark would not be enough to help the team’s long term future and they may as well dust off the green uniforms that took the field for many previous losing campaigns.

For our third holiday need we travel west from St. Petersburg, FL and find ourselves in Houston where today marks the 50th anniversary of the Astros being called the Astros.

For most of their five decades of existence the Astros found themselves in the National League. The 2015 season will mark the team’s third season of American League play and yet another season of rebuilding as the front office tries to find the right formula for building a winner on a budget.

Of course the build a winner on a budget approach only works when the other teams in the division play along. With skyrocketing salaries within the American League West and the Mariners, Angels and Athletics entering an arms race the best the Astros can realistically hope for in the coming years is to do better than their in state rivals the Rangers.

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year. Photo R. Anderson

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year.
Photo R. Anderson

A division title is likely not in the cards for the Astros in the American League any time soon. One can preach the sermon of rebuilding until they are blue in the face but that does not make it so when other teams aren’t reading from the same playbook.

With that said, my Christmas gift for the Astros would be a move back to the National League. Of course like that brown Matchbox police car that Santa could never locate for younger version of me despite the best of intentions, a move back to the National League is likely another unfulfillable wish no matter how much one wants it to happen.

For our final stop along the holiday gift giving trail we move a little south of Houston to Sugar Land, TX which is home of the Sugar Land Skeeters. The Skeeters, who play in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, will start the 2015 season as defending champions of their division and with new ownership in place.DSCN7359

With all of their opponents located on the Atlantic Coast, my gift to the Skeeters, were it in my power, would be closer opponents to make those road trips not so long.

There are plans to expand the Atlantic League’s footprint in Texas in the coming years so it is likely that the Christmas wish will become reality before too long.

There are my four Cyber Monday gift ideas that are not available in stores but if they were they would certainly make the perfect stocking stuffers for the Orioles, Rays, Astros and Skeeters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of a little Christmas shopping while I am in the Holiday spirit.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Joe Maddon Opts Out as Rays Manager

It is a fact of life in baseball that managers come and managers go.

In fact next year 16 percent of the Major League Baseball teams will have a different manager for Opening Day than the one they had this year.

Usually managers leave by getting fired as was the case in Houston, Arizona and Minnesota. Occasionally managers take their own path and show themselves the door as Ron Washington did with the Texas Rangers.

Last Friday Joe Maddon joined Washington in the take your own path club when he informed the Tampa Bay Rays that he would not be back to manage the team next year.

Maddon spent nine years as the manager of the Rays and led the team to their only winning seasons in franchise history and a World Series appearance in 2008.

By all accounts Maddon planned to spend many more seasons with the Rays but a series of events changed that course unexpectedly.

The first event was the departure of Rays President Andrew Friedman who took a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Joe Maddon announced Friday that he was leaving the Tampa Bay Rays after nine seasons. Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon announced Friday that he was leaving the Tampa Bay Rays after nine seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

That first event triggered the second event which was an opt out clause in Maddon’s contract that went into effect in the event that Friedman left the Rays.

The decision to exercise his opt out clause came with one year remaining on his current contract and after negotiations for a contract extension broke down.

While the decision to leave with a year left on his contract may rub some the wrong way, it is hard to blame Maddon for not wanting to be a lame duck manager.

If Maddon knew that there was no way that he and the Rays could agree on an extension beyond the 2015 season, it really is best for both parties to start their next chapters as soon as possible.

Regarding next chapters in the near term the future looks much brighter for Joe Maddon than the Rays.

Next season the Tampa Bay Rays will be without Joe Maddon and Don Zimmer marking the end of an era and the start of a time of transition. Photo R. Anderson

Next season the Tampa Bay Rays will be without Joe Maddon and Don Zimmer marking the end of an era and the start of a time of transition.
Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon becomes one of the most sought after manager free agents in recent history and there is no shortage of teams that are likely to try to give him the keys to the manager’s suite.

Realistically Joe Maddon will not be managing next season and will take a season off to mull his offers which could include two thirds of the teams in the MLB.

One potential landing spot being mentioned for Maddon is the Chicago Cubs.

Wherever Maddon lands it is a near certainty that he will turn the team around much like he did with the Rays.

While the future for Maddon looks bright the Rays seemed poised for a few lean years to come.

Coming off of their first losing season since 2007 the Rays had a lot of issues that needed to be addressed even if Maddon was still the skipper.

Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon's first victory as a Major League Baseaball manager is memorialized at Charlotte Sports Park. Photo R. Anderson

Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon’s first victory as a Major League Baseaball manager is memorialized at Charlotte Sports Park.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays were predicted by many to be the American League representative in this year’s World Series.

Instead through a season of injuries and trades the Rays reverted back to levels of futility not seen since the days when they were the Devil Rays.

Of course teams can have a bad season from time to time without declaring that the sky is falling but the Rays do not have the same luxury as most teams.

With national media constantly harping on the Rays for their “lack of fan support” and “outdated” stadium there is no room for error under that microscope.

With a fraction of the payroll of the other teams Joe Maddon and the Rays front office had a knack for getting the most out of their players and often exceeded expectations.

But with the purse strings getting tighter, and star players continuing to be traded, the Rays face a challenging future where a single losing season may turn into multiple losing seasons before the ship is righted.

Those losing seasons were possible even if Joe Maddon was still around but they would have seemed a little easier to take with the Mad Hatter in the Hoodie watching from the dugout.

The Rays will have a new skipper for the first time in about a decade when Spring Training starts next year and whoever his standing on that top step in the dugout has huge shoes to fill.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see how DJ Kitty is handling the news.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

MLB Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

Another non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone in Major League Baseball.

As is the case every year when Major League Baseball’s Silly Season concludes there were winners and losers with the rich in talent teams getting richer and the rebuilding teams continuing to rebuild.

Each year teams are labeled as either buyers or sellers at the deadline as they seek to either add players to help them in the short term or trade away players for prospects that they hope can help them in the long term.

What is often lost in the midst of the trade deadline are the teams that are caught in the middle of having the record to be deemed a contender and those that are in wait until next year mode.

The Tampa Bay Rays, who were considered by some experts to be World Series favorites at the start of the season, found themselves in the murky middle ground when it came to their ace pitcher David Price.

David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner was traded to the Detroit Tigers Thursday afternoon. Photo R. Anderson

David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, was traded to the Detroit Tigers Thursday afternoon.
Photo R. Anderson

Many teams would give their left arms for a chance to add the former Cy Young Winner to their rotation but with the Rays overcoming a rough start to the season to finally play solid baseball which has them only eight games out of first place in the division, and about five games out of a Wild Card spot, one could argue that Price was needed to make a valid postseason run.

Repeatedly team management stated that it would take an epic “knock their socks off” offer from a team that included several top tier prospects to make them part with their ace at the deadline.

In the end the Rays traded Price to the Detroit Tigers for a less than sock losing trio of players that appear to have far less upside at the moment than Price.

With the trade the Tigers now have three Cy Young winners in their rotation and seem destined for another American League Championship Series showdown with the Oakland Athletics who also added depth to their rotation prior to the trade deadline.

Trades in baseball are nothing new but when a team trades away a fan favorite and leader in the clubhouse, such as Price who spent seven seasons with the Rays, there is always bound to be push back from the fans.

As expected when news broke that Price had been traded, many fans filled team message boards with angry comments saying that they were done supporting the Rays. Others asked how they could have traded Price for so little in return.

The answer to why the trade was made comes down to economics. The Rays have a long history of trading their aces when they are due big raises in free agency since Tampa Bay does not have the payroll flexibility to match many other teams when it comes to salary offers.

David Price (far right) anchored the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff and became the latest ace to be traded by the Rays. Time will tell which pitcher picks up the slack and leads the staff with Price gone. Photo R. Anderson

David Price (far right) anchored the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff and became the latest ace to be traded by the Rays. Time will tell which pitcher picks up the slack and leads the staff with Price gone.
Photo R. Anderson

David Price just becomes the latest pitcher to be traded by the Rays joining Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, and James Shields. What makes the Price trade different is the fact that it came in the middle of the season while the Rays were still driving for the playoffs.

Previous trades of pitchers and other impact players were usually made during the offseason.

In reality the Rays still faced a tough task in making the playoffs even with Price since the Orioles were winning just as many games as the Rays making it impossible to cut into Baltimore’s division lead.

But the Rays certainly still had a shot at making the postseason. Trading Price away during that run will likely affect clubhouse morale as well as well as fan reaction to the perception that the Rays have given up on the current season.

Many fans get heavily invested in players and when a long-time player is dealt it can feel like losing a close friend or family member.

I can still remember the disappointment I felt while sitting at Minute Maid Park a few years ago after learning that the Houston Astros had traded Lance Berkman to the New York Yankees right before he was scheduled to play. It had seemed like Berkman would spend is entire career as an Astro.

Following the announcement that David Price was traded many Rays fans stated that they would not return to Tropicana Field. It is unlikely that such a fan boycutt would have any measurable effect on the bottom line financials for the team. Photo R. Anderson.

Following the announcement that David Price was traded many Rays fans stated that they would not return to Tropicana Field. It is unlikely that such a fan boycutt would have any measurable effect on the bottom line financials for the team.
Photo R. Anderson.

The harsh reality is most teams do not base their business decisions on the desires of the average fan.

Baseball is a business and like any other business it is driven by profits and the bottom line. For baseball teams the bottom line is enhanced through corporate sponsorships, suite sales, and television revenue.

While the money generated by a fan attending the game’s in person is certainly icing on a team’s financial spreadsheet it is a mere drop in the bucket for most teams meaning that the loss of a few hundred or even a few thousand fans is not going to affect them long term.

Once of the reasons often given for any new Ballpark or stadium project is the need to add additional luxury suites to increase revenue from the corporate community. Suites equal big bucks for teams at all levels of baseball. Rarely, if ever, will a team say that they need a new facility to make more affordable family seating in the outfield.

While those shots of happy families eating cotton candy look great on television, the fact remains most teams would prefer to have a Ballpark full of corporate clients spending big bucks on suites as opposed to stands full of families.

That is just the reality of the game and fans can either accept that fact to continue to have their hearts broken whenever a favorite player is traded away.

The days of a player spending their entire career with a single team and retiring to either become the manager of the team or a broadcaster covering the games are very likely behind us.

In fact, when the farewell tour of Derek Jeter’s 20 years in Yankee pinstripes is over it is likely that there will never be another player to spend two decades with the same team.

Alex Cobb will likely be one of the key pieces of any future success of the Tampa Bay Rays following the trade of staff ace David Price. Photo R. Anderson

Alex Cobb will likely be one of the key pieces of any future success of the Tampa Bay Rays following the trade of staff ace David Price.
Photo R. Anderson

Time will tell if the fans boycott Tropicana Field the rest of the season as some have suggested in response to the Price trade.

Attendance at the Trop, and the desire for a new stadium, will likely continue to be a hot topic between St. Petersburg officials and team ownership this off season as has been the case for several years now.

But as long as the high rollers keep going to the Ballpark and filling the suites the loss of some disgruntled fans is not going to affect the Rays pocket books.

Welcome to the new reality of baseball where the bottom line trumps the box score every time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see how DJ Kitty is handling the news.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

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 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 exceled 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 2014 R. Anderson

Celebrating Independence in a Most American Way

Today is the Fourth of July which is a day set aside to celebrate America’s independence from the occupying British forces.

With a roaring declaration in 1776 proclaiming independence, the American forefathers set in motion many of the freedoms and truths that we hold self evident to this very day.

That independence from British rule established principles regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows. Photo R. Anderson

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows.
Photo R. Anderson

Each year as part of that pursuit of happiness I try to take part in as many staples of American life as possible. One of those yearly patriotic pursuits is trying to spend part of my July Fourth in a Ballpark watching some baseball.

This year the baseball scheduling powers saw fit that both of my local teams, the Houston Astros and Sugar Land Skeeters, were playing away games today which meant for the first time in several years I would not be able to watch live baseball on America’s birthday.

But, when the baseball schedule taketh it also occasionally giveth.

This giving came in the form of televised Tampa Bay Rays action.

While the Rays are not exactly having a stellar season opportunities to see them on television do not come along often in Texas so I will be watching them tonight while also looking east to see the rockets red glare from the neighboring fireworks show on the bay.

Last year I was able to see the Rays play live against the Astros in Minute Maid Park during an afternoon game but this year my patriotic watching of the Rays will take place with the help of ESPN.

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan's hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest. Photo R. Anderson

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan’s hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to trying to catch baseball games on July Fourth another All American tradition I try to include on this day each year is eating a Nathan’s hot dog.

For about a century now Coney Island, New York has hosted the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Championship.

And while competitors come from nations all over the world to take part, the item remains All-American in that it occurs on July 4th.

Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win another title on his path to establishing himself as one of the best competitive eaters of all time.

To honor this achievement of man concurring frankfurter I stage my own mini hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July each year.

While I never eat anywhere near 69 hot dogs, I do venture to my local Sam’s Club to get an authentic Nathan’s hot dog each and every Fourth of July.

Nathan’s was one of the brands I grew up with on the east coast and they are hard to find here in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong there are some very nice hot dog choices here but to me a hot dog on July 4th has to either be a Nathan’s or an Esskay hot dog. I am sure there are people that feel the same way about whichever hot dog they grew up with as well.

A Fourth of July with a hot dog lunch and one of my favorite baseball teams playing on television is about as close to a perfect celebration as I could imagination.

Between those two events I will also catch a concert of patriotic music and a midway full of junk food so my day will be about as American as can be.

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.  Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you, but I definitely prefer the American customs that have developed over the past 238 years or so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about patriotism and American traditions has me craving some All-American apple pie.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson