Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Take Weekend Series at Minute Maid Park but Get Little Time to Celebrate

After winning a weekend series against the Houston Astros the Tampa Bay Rays could be finally heading in the right direction.

While still possessing the worst record in baseball the Rays can be encouraged somewhat by winning two out of three games against the Astros who many predicted would have the worst record in baseball for the fourth straight year.

The Tampa Bay Rays took two out of three games against the Houston Astros over the past weekend. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays took two out of three games against the Houston Astros over the past weekend.
Photo R. Anderson

The thrill of victory will be short lived though as fresh off of the series win the Rays return home to Tropicana Field tonight to host their American East Division foes the Baltimore Orioles.

Tonight will mark the sixth time that the Maryland based and the Florida based teams have met this season with the Orioles winning all five of the previous matchups.

Back during their Devil Rays days the Orioles and Rays would often be battling each year for the second to last spot in the division and bragging rights over the team that finished last.

In recent years the Rays and Orioles have both been among the top teams in the division which makes this season a bit of a historical mix up.

After the death of Don Zimmer, Desmond Jennings and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays are playing with heavy hearts and patches honoring Zim. Photo R. Anderson

After the death of Don Zimmer, Desmond Jennings and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays are playing with heavy hearts and patches honoring Zim.
Photo R. Anderson

While the Orioles currently sit in second place within the division a mere 4.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays the Rays are 13.5 games back and in last place.

As often noted I am always torn whenever the Rays and the Orioles play each other since I have deep rooting ties to both franchises.

In the past I have tended to root for the home team during head to head matchups, or I will often find myself pulling for the team with the best chance of representing the division in the playoffs.

Using that formula it should be a no brainer that I would root for the Orioles to sweep the Rays over the next couple of games since the Orioles stand the best chance of making the playoffs this season but I just can’t seem to discount the Rays yet.

I guess there is part of me that does not want to believe that the Rays, who many people felt had the roster to propel them to the World Series, are finished in mid-June.

The Tampa Bay Rays started a series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight and will look to keep the winning ways going. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays started a series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight and will look to keep the winning ways going.
Photo R. Anderson

That is not to take anything away from the success of the Orioles, or to suggest that I do not bleed Orange and Black, but I really am finding it hard to believe that the Rays are struggling as mightily as they are.

Granted the Rays have had to deal with the death of Don Zimmer and a string of injuries that have exposed their lack of depth in certain areas but many teams deal with injuries and tragedies each year and still manage to win games.

In a way my struggles with the unexpected fall of the Rays is similar to what many fans of the Miami Heat might be feeling following the five game series loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals last night.

The Spurs dominated the Heat throughout the series and posted the highest per game margin of victory in NBA Finals history so it was not a close series and even fell two point shy of ending in a sweep.

Prior to the series many Heat fans likely thought that the series would go to seven games as it did last year.

The Spurs and Heat are two of the best teams in the NBA and have been for many years accounting for eight titles since 1999, with three for the Heat (2006, 2012, 2013) and five for the Spurs (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014).

Of course each team made it to the finals in years where they did not win the title as well so one could make the case that the Heat and the Spurs have been the teams to beat for much of the 21st Century.

Despite those years of success there will be those that look at the “collapse” of the Heat as a sign that the roster needs to be ripped apart and rebuilt from scratch. What that approach fails to consider is despite the Ricky Bobby mantra of “If you ain’t first you’re last” there are second place finishers each year that in many cases were just as talented as the ultimate winners but fell short in the end for whatever reason.

Just as there will be calls from some fans to implode the Heat roster and rebuild following the finals loss there will be those who feel that the Rays will need to go back to the drawing board following the below expectations season they seem like to finish with.

Of course the Rays are known for late series miracles so I am not discounting that they can’t finish strong but I do think it is safe to say that a World Series game at the Trop is unlikely this year.

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays will need an offensive spark and a miracle to live up to the expectations for the season and avoid a player purge at the trade deadline in July. Photo R. Anderson

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays will need an offensive spark and a miracle to live up to the expectations for the season and avoid a player purge at the trade deadline in July.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally I do not subscribe to the theory of imploding rosters after a single bad year and prefer to look at the bigger picture and a team’s entire catalog of work.

The Rays can and will win again with the bulk of the players that they currently have just as the Heat can likely be a threat for the NBA title again next year with a few tweaks here and there.

Of course time will tell what those changes will be and rather the management of both clubs takes a scalpel to the roster to make fine adjustments or performs roster surgery with a chain saw.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to flip a coin to decide whether I am wearing my Orioles hat or my Rays hat tonight.

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

Don Zimmer’s Passing is a Sad Day for Baseball

Don Zimmer, a baseball icon for the past six decades as a player, manager, bench coach and most recently senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, passed away at the age of 83 today in Florida.

Upon learning of Zimmer’s passing Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement stating that, “Like everyone in Major League Baseball, I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Don Zimmer, one of our game’s most universally beloved figures. A memorable contributor to Baseball for more than 60 years, Don was the kind of person you could only find in the National Pastime.”

My first column for this site was a tribute to the late Earl Weaver and now it is time to say goodbye to another icon from my past who shaped my earliest memories of the game of baseball and was someone who I was excited to see during my most recent trip to Spring Training.

As a kid collecting baseball cards there were certain faces that jumped out of the two dimensional cards and showed a life of baseball knowledge behind their eyes.

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and bench coach.

While the logos on their hats may have changed as they moved from team to team, Don Zimmer, Lou Pinella, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, and Earl Weaver just had the look and sound that one would expect a Major League Baseball Manager to have.

While I never had the opportunity to meet Zimmer as I did with Earl Weaver both men nonetheless reminded me of what a true baseball manager should be, someone a little rough around the edges who is willing to charge the mound or kick some dirt on an umpire’s shoes when the situation calls for it.

A moment of silence was held before the seventh inning stretch of the Baltimore Orioles versus Texas Rangers game and more celebrations honoring Don Zimmer are planned in the coming days.

The Rays will honor Zimmer with a moment of silence at Thursday’s Rays-Marlins game at Tropicana Field and will conduct a special pregame ceremony prior to the Rays-Mariners game on Saturday.

Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special adviser for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.  Photo R. Anderson

Don Zimmer (far right) served as a special advisor for Joe Maddon after joining the Tampa Bay Rays when Lou Pinella was the manager.
Photo R. Anderson

From a player who nearly died following a pitch to the head resulting in a metal plate being placed in his head, Don Zimmer used his 66-years in professional baseball to shape generations of players.

It would take days to recount all of the accomplishments from Zimmer’s career but there is no doubt that his death leaves a larger than life void on the game of baseball.

Once his playing career was over, Zim, as he was known, managed the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Zim also managed the New York Yankees for 36 games in 1999, while Torre recuperated from prostate cancer.

A frequent fixture in the dugout as Yankees bench coach, Zim left the Bronx and went home to Tampa to serve first as bench coach under Pinella and then later under Joe Maddon with the Rays.

The Rays honored Zim in a truly Tampa Bay Rays way when they immortalized him with a Zim Bear giveaway. The Zim Bears were so popular that a second batch of bears was added to keep up with fan demand.

It is a sad fact that the baseball icons of my youth will all someday pass away just like Earl Weaver and Don Zimmer have.

Each generation has their favorites and it is always a little sad when they are no longer with us as it can feel like a piece of our own youth is dying along with them.

When we are young looking up at these larger than life figures on the baseball diamond it can be easy to think of them as almost immortal but as we age we realize that they are flesh and blood just like us.

Thankfully despite their passing away they will live on in the memories of fans and in Don Zimmer’s case they will live on in the form of a teddy bear with his face on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to reread Zim’s autobiography.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

 

Baseball’s Beasts of the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Championships are Not Won in April but They Can be Lost in April

It has been said that championships are not won in April but that they can certainly be lost.

That is to say that a team’s early success does not always carry over throughout the course of a full season as many things can happen between Opening Day and Game One of the World Series to shape a team’s fortunes and in some cases misfortunes.

While a team winning the bulk of their games early in a season does not guarantee continued success, a team that loses most of their games early on will in most cases continue that trend throughout the season.

While it is certainly neither the time nor place for celebration or despair in any of the 30 Major League Ballparks this early in the season it is certainly worth looking at some early trends in terms of expectations met and expectations that have not been met.

In the American League East few should be surprised that the New York Yankees are leading the standings during the Derek Jeter Swan Song Tour.

With the  New York Yankees in first place in the American League East very few people are likely to bet against them going deep into the postseason during Derek Jeter's Farewell Tour. Photo R. Anderson

With the New York Yankees in first place in the American League East very few people are likely to bet against them going deep into the postseason during Derek Jeter’s Farewell Tour.
Photo R. Anderson

Some may go so far as to suggest that the baseball stars will align so that Jeter’s last game occurs as a World Series Champion. That is not to say that baseball is rigged but there are certainly odd occurrences now and then. I am looking at you Boston Red Sox.

The rest of the American League East offers a few surprises.

Few would have thought that the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox who famously healed an entire region last year with a title following a terrorist attack at a marathon would be in last place in the division.

The Tampa Bay Rays who many predicted as a World Series bound team are also struggling a bit due to injuries to their starting rotation but it is likely that they will bounce back from the early season struggles and become the playoff team that many predicted them to be.

While the New York Yankees may be the current frontrunners in the East, one cannot discount Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays since no team has done more with less over the past five seasons. Photo R. Anderson

While the New York Yankees may be the current frontrunners in the East, one cannot discount Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays since no team has done more with less over the past five seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles certainly cannot be ruled out as well in what is often the most hotly contested division in all of baseball.

Traveling further down the geographic standings brings the focus on the American League Central where the usual suspects seem to be doing the usual things early on.

The Detroit Tigers will likely continue their reign atop the division while fighting off the advances of the Kansas City Royals who continue to improve each season.

The Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians will likely string together some impressive victories throughout the season but it is unlikely that they will rise to the top of the standings based on their early sample of work.

Out in the American League West the Oakland Athletics are in first place and the Houston Astros are in last place.

No real surprises there.

While the Texas Rangers will look to return to postseason play in the post Nolan Ryan era a more intriguing thing to watch in the division will be whether the Astros can break their streak of consecutive 100 loss seasons.

Early indications point to another long season for the Houston Astros. Fans can take comfort in the return of the view of the skyline however. Photo R. Anderson

Early indications point to another long season for the Houston Astros. Fans can take comfort in the return of the view of the skyline however.
Photo R. Anderson

Early indications certainly point to it being another very long season in Minute Maid Park but at least fans have a view of downtown again to entertain them during lopsided losses by the home team.

The Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will look to get some bang from their hefty payroll bucks and should easily finish higher than the Astros but it is doubtful that they will break the grasp the Rangers and Athletics have atop the division.

With the American League shaping up with few surprises it is time to look at the National League and any potential surprises or unexpected trends from the early parts of the season.

The National League East has the Atlanta Braves in cruise control atop the standings. With their days in Turner Field numbered it would be nice to see the Braves give the Ballpark a final taste of postseason play before it is reduced to a pile of rubble.

The Atlanta Braves look like the team to beat so far in the National League East. Photo R. Anderson

The Atlanta Braves look like the team to beat so far in the National League East.
Photo R. Anderson

The Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies will try to keep things interesting but the division does seem to have a heavy “tomahawk chop” feel to it with the Braves going the distance.

The Miami Marlins hold their familiar spot at the bottom of the standings showing that a Ballpark without payroll can lead to a very long couple of seasons.

The National League Central is shaping up to look like the division normally looks with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals near the top and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs near the bottom.

It is likely that the 100th Anniversary season at Wrigley Field will end like many of the previous years with the Cubs shut out of the postseason.

The Cincinnati Reds will likely hold their familiar spot in third place in the division although Billy Hamilton will certainly give the Reds’ fans something exciting to watch as he scorches the base path with his base stealing speed.

Current Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases in the Minor Leagues  and became immortalized as a bobble head. The real life version is likely to entertain Reds fans for years to come. Photo R. Anderson

Current Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases in the Minor Leagues and became immortalized as a bobble head. The real life version is likely to entertain Reds fans for years to come.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the National League West the Los Angeles Dodgers are leading the pack with the Arizona Diamondbacks currently having the worst record in all of baseball.

The Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres will keep things competitive but the West has a feel of Dodger Blue as long as they don’t implode down the stretch.

While the standings in all six divisions are likely to change through the course of the season early indications do seem to point to a postseason filled with the usual suspects.

Of course there are no guarantees in baseball. Teams will need to battle through injuries and other factors as they approach October.

The only peak the Astros are likely to see this season will come in the form of Tal's Hill in center field. Photo R. Anderson

The only peak the Astros are likely to see this season will come in the form of Tal’s Hill in center field.
Photo R. Anderson

The teams that peak at the right time are the ones that win it all in the end. For some teams that peak occurs on Opening Day and lasts the whole season long. Other teams are more slow burners and need to build up to their peak.

Then there are the teams who are stuck in the valley where the only peak they see is the pitcher’s mound or in the case of the Houston Astros, Tal’s Hill.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about peaks and valleys has me craving a mountain view.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Rays’ Spring Home Garners Top Honors

The other day USA Today announced the results of a poll of Top 10 Spring Training Ballparks as voted by their readers.

Lists like this are often subjective in nature and one could make arguments that what makes one Ballpark better than another one is in the eye of the beholder with everyone looking for something a little different in terms of what makes a good Ballpark.

While some people might look for a Ballpark that has more amenities such as luxury suites, others might look for a Ballpark that feels like it belongs back in the Golden Age of baseball. With that caveat in place, I tend to mostly agree with the results of the poll.Charlotte Sports Park Map

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

While there seems to be a yearly campaign of complaining about their regular season home, Tropicana Field, The Tampa Bay Rays garnered the top spot with their Spring Training Home the Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.

I visited Charlotte Sports Park a few years back and definitely found it to be a very nice complex and one that I definitely hope to return to many times.

For the record I also tend to think that Tropicana Field is a very suitable Ballpark for baseball and am growing tired of the yearly whining about how out of date it is and how much it needs to be replaced.

Charlotte Sports Park underwent a $27,000,000 renovation in 2009 and is utilized by the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League at the conclusion of Spring Training which allows for nearly year round use of the complex.

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action. Photo R. Anderson

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from the bragging rights of having the favorite Ballpark the Rays also boast one of the shortest commutes between Spring Training home and regular season home with a drive of about 90 minutes between St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins are the other teams who spend the Spring and regular season based in the same state and also enjoy short commutes for their fans.

Of course the Tampa Bay Rays once had a much shorter Spring Training commute when they spent the entire year in St. Petersburg, FL splitting time between Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field a few miles down the road.

The full Top 10 list features only three Ballparks from Arizona’s Cactus League showing that most people surveyed prefer their Spring Training baseball in the Grapefruit League under the Florida sun.

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other. Photo R. Anderson

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other.
Photo R. Anderson

While I cannot speak for the Cactus League Ballparks on the list I do have extensive bleacher and box seat time in the Grapefruit League so I feel pretty confident in commenting on those facilities.

The oldest Ballpark still in use, McKechnie Field, in Bradenton, FL is the long-time home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and ranked fourth on the list.

For historical factors alone I would have moved it up into the top 3 but I suppose fourth place is not too bad considering it comes in as the second Grapefruit League Ballpark.

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll. Photo R. Anderson

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll.
Photo R. Anderson

As far as fifth and sixth place go I would swap the Philadelphia Phillies’ Clearwater based Ballpark, Bright House Field with the Baltimore Orioles’ Sarasota home at Ed Smith Stadium.

In full disclosure I have only driven by Bright House Field so perhaps it is nicer on the inside than a quick glance down the highway shows but for my money it is hard to beat the old Ballpark charm of Ed Smith Stadium.

Ed Smith Stadium also features an air conditioned restaurant which allows fans a chance at a sit down meal before heading back to catch the action on the field.

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985. Photo R. Anderson

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985.
Photo R. Anderson

The 10th ranked Ballpark on the list is in danger of no longer hosting Spring Training games in a couple of years. With the Houston Astros exploring locations in West Palm Beach, FL their days at Osceola County Stadium seem numbered.

It will be a shame if the Astros leave the Spring Training home they have had since 1985 for greener pastures since according to the pollsters the fields of Kissimmee, FL are already pretty green.

Granted Osceola County Stadium is an older facility but with older Ballparks making the Top 10 it shows that older is sometimes better in the eyes of the ticket buying fans.

For completeness the entire Top 10 Spring Training facilities, according to the readers of USA Today, is included below along with the Major League Baseball teams that call them home. Ballparks I have visited are listed in bold. Ballparks with an asterisk beside them are among the Ballparks I plan to visit next March.

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home. Photo R. Anderson

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home.
Photo R. Anderson

  1. Charlotte Sports Park – Port Charlotte, Fla. Home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
  2. Goodyear Ballpark – Goodyear, Ariz. Home of the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds.
  3. Salt River Fields – Scottsdale, Ariz. Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
  4. McKechnie Field – Bradenton, Fla. Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.*
  5. Bright House Field – Clearwater, Fla. Home of the Philadelphia Phillies. *
  6. Ed Smith Stadium – Sarasota, Fla. Home of the Baltimore Orioles.
  7. Tradition Field – Port St. Lucie, Fla. Home of the New York Mets.
  8. Cubs Park – Mesa, Ariz. Home of the Chicago Cubs.
  9. JetBlue Park – Fort Myers, Fla. Home of the Boston Red Sox.
  10. Osceola County Stadium – Kissimmee, Fla. Home of the Houston Astros.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Surprises can be Both Good and Bad

The other day I took my Jeep in for a routine oil change and alignment check.

While I try to be good about coming in every 3,000 miles or so I am occasionally tardy in my duties as a car owner and stretch things out to four or five thousand miles between oil changes.

This was one of those times where I was closer to the five thousand mark than three thousand but I figured the car was no worse for it.

Since the mechanic is within walking distance of my house I will often drop off the Jeep and walk home as opposed to sitting in the waiting room watching the History Channel, which always seems to be on when I am there.

A recent surprise flat tire got me thinking about some surprises I would actually like to see this year. Photo R. Anderson

A recent surprise flat tire got me thinking about some surprises I would actually like to see this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t get me wrong, I love the History Channel but I figure there are so many more things that I can do in the comfort of my own home as opposed to spending time in the waiting room.

So as I was sitting at home on my couch watching the History Channel, the mechanic called to tell me that they would not be able to fix my flat tire since the bolt had gone through the side wall.

This news surprised me in many ways.

First, I had not been aware that I had a flat tire and secondly how exactly does a bolt manage to enter a tire at a 90 degree angle?

I mentioned to the mechanic that I was not aware of a flat tire and perhaps he had mixed up my chart with someone else’s. He assured me that one of my tires was punctured and it was time to look at the options.

After it was determined that the tire could not be repaired and would need to be replaced, I realized that my $20 oil change was going to be far more expensive than originally planned.

My first reaction at having to purchase an unplanned tire was of course one of anger since I never seem to get the full manufacturer’s suggested amount of miles out of a set of tires.

In fact the tire that was mortally wounded by the bolt only had around 6,000 miles on it which made it a tire teenager cut down in its prime.

While the surprise aspect of the additional tire purchase was certainly not what I had planned on, I was definitely happy to have the surprise of a punctured tire happen while I was sitting on my couch as opposed to driving down the highway and experiencing a blowout or other tire issue that would have caused more damage to the Jeep and/or me.

So, all in all learning about a flat tire in air conditioned comfort on a couch with someone else doing the repair was certainly a welcome surprise albeit an expensive one.

The surprise World Serie pairing that I want to see in October is the Tampa Bay Rays against the Washington Nationals. Photo R. Anderson

The surprise World Serie pairing that I want to see in October is the Tampa Bay Rays against the Washington Nationals.
Photo R. Anderson

The surprise flat got me thinking about other potential surprises that could arise with the pending starts of the Major League Baseball, NASCAR and Indy Racing League seasons over the next couple of weeks.

Of course if one knew what was going to happen in each of those areas ahead of time they would not be surprises but for the sake of argument here is one potential surprise and one dark horse surprise that I would love to see in each of those sports this season.

First up let’s look at the surprises for Major League Baseball.

With the Major League Baseball season just around the corner the biggest surprise I would like to see is the Tampa Bay Rays making a return trip to the World Series against the Washington Nationals.

While the Rays and Nationals are both loaded with talent this year they each face huge obstacles in their quest for October glory. The Rays have a slightly better chance at postseason play despite playing in the toughest division in baseball.

Were the Houston Astros to somehow win the American League West title this season it would likely be the surprise of the year if not the century. Photo R. Anderson

Were the Houston Astros to somehow win the American League West title this season it would likely be the surprise of the year if not the century.
Photo R. Anderson

But for the record the Major League Baseball surprise I most want to see this year is a Rays against Nationals World Series.

Of course my dark horse surprise, that has almost no chance in the world of happening, would be for the Houston Astros to win the American League West.

That surprise is probably at least a decade away from happening but anything can happen I suppose.

With the Major League Baseball surprises written down my sights soon turned to NASCAR.

The Daytona 500 kicks off the 36-race NASCAR season this weekend (more on that in Friday’s column).

As in the past few seasons the powers that be added some tweaks to the points and other rules that teams will need to quickly get up to speed on.

Danica Patrick would surprise many people including Richard Petty were she to win a NASCAR race this season. Photo R. Anderson

Danica Patrick would surprise many people including Richard Petty were she to win a NASCAR race this season.
Photo R. Anderson

Perhaps no other sport enjoys messing with the rules each year as much as NASCAR does so they are certainly consistent with their constant changes.

My NASCAR related surprise that I would like to see involves the driver of the #10 car Danica Patrick.

After becoming the first woman to win an IRL race, Danica became the first woman to start on the pole and lead laps in the Daytona 500 last year during her first full year in NASCAR’s highest level.

My Danica related surprise would be for her to silence her critics in the Petty family and elsewhere by winning a race this year.

There are 36 opportunities for her to accomplish that and I feel that she very well could make history once again and make The King Richard Petty eat that feather on his hat.

In a perfect world Jimmy Johnson would let someone else win the championship this season. Photo R. Anderson

In a perfect world Jimmy Johnson would let someone else win the championship this season.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the NASCAR related dark horse surprise I would most like to see, that would be for someone other than Jimmy Johnson to hoist the Champion’s trophy at the end of the year.

I mean come on Jimmy you have six of them already it is time to share with the rest of the class and take some time off before getting that record tying seventh championship that no amount of rules changes can prevent you from eventually winning.

Lastly let us look at the big surprises I am predicting for the IRL this year.

With the series returning once again to Houston for a two-race weekend in June I would like to have the surprise of seeing both races run without any career ending injuries such as the one that Dario Franchitti suffered last year.

Dario Franchitti's racing career ended on a racetrack constructed in a stadium parking lot. Hopefully no other drivers face the same fate when the Indy Racing Series returns to Houston this June. Photo R. Anderson

Dario Franchitti’s racing career ended on a racetrack constructed in a stadium parking lot. Hopefully no other drivers face the same fate when the Indy Racing Series returns to Houston this June.
Photo R. Anderson

Hopefully with more time to plan race organizers can make sure that the track will be in better shape so the drivers can race each other and not worry about whether the track is going to cause them to lose control or take them out of the championship picture, or end their careers.

As for my dark horse surprise I want to see this year in the Indy Series, that would be for Juan Pablo Montoya to win the IRL Championship for Roger Penske after coming over from a few years spent in NASCAR driving for Penske’s bitter rival Chip Ganassi.

So there you have it several surprises to look out for over the next six months or so in MLB, NASCAR and IRL competition.

Of course if any of those surprises do end up happening you can always say that you read about them here first.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some surprises to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Rays Earn Boston Tea Party Berth

The Tampa Bay Rays never seem to do things the easy way.

But, based on recent results, the hard way seems to suit them just fine.

Playing in their 39th game in the past 41 days the Tampa Bay Rays claimed the American League Wild Card title Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

The Rays have been winning away from home for over two weeks. They finally will come back to the Trop on October 7th. Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have been winning away from home for over two weeks. They finally will come back to the Trop on October 7th.
Photo R. Anderson

For the second time in three nights the Rays went into a hostile environment faced with a win or go home elimination game only to arise victorious and celebrate on the field while the home team’s fans looked on with sadness.

Of course the showdown in Cleveland was just one of many stops on the Rays’ late season whistle stop tour.

The Rays have been on the road since September 24th, when they opened a three-game series in New York against the Yankees.

The Rays swept the Yankees.

Then it was off to Toronto, where they lost two games to the Blue Jays before winning the regular-season finale to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Texas Rangers.

The Rays beat the Rangers with a complete game pitching effort from David Price in front of a sellout crowd at the Ballpark in Arlington.

The win in Texas earned the Rays a trip to Cleveland where they once again claimed victory and silenced a sellout crowd.

Fernando Rodney, finished off the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night. Rodney  will look to  shoot some more arrows starting tonight in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. Photo R. Anderson

Fernando Rodney, finished off the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night. Rodney will look to shoot some more arrows starting tonight in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Photo R. Anderson

Alex Cobb took the mound for the Rays and allowed no runs on eight hits a walk and five strikeouts to pick up the win.

Despite missing 50 games earlier in the year after getting hit with a line drive and suffering a concussion, Cobb showed no signs of buckling under the pressure created by the sellout crowd of 43,579 rally towel-waving Cleveland fans.

With the Cleveland win the Rays earned another destination and more frequent flier miles.

The Rays will start the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox tonight.

The Rays and Red Sox are familiar division foes who were fairly evenly matched during their regular season match ups this year.

Matt Moore takes the mound for the Rays tonight against the Boston Red Sox. Photo R. Anderson

Matt Moore takes the mound for the Rays tonight against the Boston Red Sox.
Photo R. Anderson

Matt Moore will look to continue the strong pitching performances by Rays starters in game one of the best of five series tonight at Fenway Park.

The good news for the Rays is that on October 7 they finally get to return to Tropicana Field for a home game and some changes of clothes.

A home game would also occur in game four of the series if needed before a return trip to Boston in the event of a winner take all game five scenario.

The Rays will get to add 2013 Wild Card to their banner collection at Tropicana Field. Of course they are hoping for several more up to World Series Champion this year. Photo R. Anderson

The Rays will get to add 2013 Wild Card to their banner collection at Tropicana Field. Of course they are hoping for several more up to World Series Champion this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of what happens in Boston the Rays will get to hoist a 2013 Wild Card Champion banner into the rafters at Tropicana Field.

Of course there is room for a few other banners as well as the team has its sights set on a return trip to the World Series.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there is some American League Division Series baseball to get ready for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

 

Rays Finally Silence Rangers in an Elimination Game

The past two times the Tampa Bay Rays went to the postseason they were knocked out by the Texas Rangers.

So on paper when the Rays and Rangers met Monday night for the tiebreaker game to earn the second Wildcard spot and a trip to the postseason it felt like deja vu all over again.

The Rays had dropped two of three games against the Toronto Blue Jays to slip from first place in the Wildcard standings to tied for the second spot with the Rangers. The Rangers on the other hand had won 10 straight games and were hosting the pivotal 163rd game of the season.

Historically Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has not been kind to the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

Historically Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has not been kind to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rangers held a four games to three edge over the Rays during their regular season meetings leading to the Rangers having home field advantage for the regular season tiebreaker.

Momentum and home field advantage were clearly in favor of the Rangers, on paper.

On paper the pitching match up also favored the Rangers as David Price, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, took the mound for the Rays.

Despite being the defending Cy Young Award winner Price had only defeated the Rangers once in his career and in previous meetings the Rangers and little difficulty scoring runs off of him.

Before the game there were many who looked at Price’s past performance against the Rangers and said that the Rays were foolish to put him on the mound in a win or go home type scenario with the whole season on the line.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon made several player substitiutiuons that helped propel the Tampa Bay Rays into the postseason Monday night. Photo R. Anderson

Rays Manager Joe Maddon made several player substations that helped propel the Tampa Bay Rays into the postseason Monday night.
Photo R. Anderson

But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is not one of those people who does what conventional wisdom says and he put his ace on the mound despite Price only having one victory in his career against the Rangers.

Thankfully for Rays fans though Monday night was not like the previous two meetings as the Rays defeated the Rangers in Arlington to return to the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

As for David Price, the guy who the Rangers had managed to dominate the past few years, he pitched a complete game and only gave up two runs.

I guess one could say he balled up that piece of paper that said he couldn’t win against the Rangers in big games.

The Rays face the Cleveland Indians tonight in a win or go home Wildcard game with the winner facing the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

Alex Cobb who finished the season with an 11-3 mark and a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts will take the mound for the Rays.

Alex Cobb will look to extend the season for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight when he pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Wildcard game. Photo R. Anderson

Alex Cobb will look to extend the season for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight when he pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Wildcard game.
Photo R. Anderson

On paper the teams are pretty evenly matched.

And once again the Rays will be living out of their suitcases as they face yet another game on the road.

Of course, the Rays seem to excel in the face of adversity and hostile crowds so I will place my money on the Rays winning the game.

While there is still a lot of October baseball to be played I would not be the least bit surprised if the Rays make it all the way to the World Series.

Don’t tell me what the odds are of that happening on paper are.

After all, the Rays have shown time and time again that just because it is the conventional wisdom, it is not the way the Rays play.

The Rays are a different team with a quirky manager that gets the most out of his players in every situation and once again they are in the playoffs.

Regardless of what happens in the game tonight the Rays will be remembered as a playoff contender once more.

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

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Tom Hanks was Wrong, Sometimes There is Crying in Baseball

In the 1992 movie a League of Their Own Tom Hanks’ character admonishes one of his female baseball players for crying in the dugout by saying the often quoted phrase, “there’s no crying in baseball.”

On Thursday night in Yankee Stadium there was in fact crying allowed in baseball as New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera said goodbye with class, composure and a few tears on a teammate’s shoulder.

I did not watch the moment when it happened live as the Yankees game against the Tampa Bay Rays was not televised in my market.

But when I woke up Friday morning to check out the game highlights from the night before there was a link to video of the moment Mariano left the mound for the last time.

I figured the video was worth watching since the teaser said that Derek Jeter and Andy Petittie were the ones to take Mariano out of the game which by itself is unusual. I figured it would be nice to see the tribute before heading off to work.

With all apologies to Tom Hanks who famously said that "there is no crying in baseball," I maintain there are times when it is allowed. Photo R. Anderson

With all apologies to Tom Hanks who famously said that “there is no crying in baseball,” I maintain there are times when it is allowed.
Photo R. Anderson

In hindsight I was not prepared for the video.

Once Mariano’s teammates arrived on the mound and it was clear that this was the last time that he would leave the mound in Yankee Stadium the emotions finally erupted and as he buried his head in his teammate’s shoulder the tears began to fall from his eyes.

The television broadcasters did the right thing and did not speak over the moment as broadcasters often try to do since they are taught to fill every moment of dead air.

But in that nearly eight minutes of dead air emotions rang true and the human element of sports was allowed to shine through.

Mariano went through the dugout and hugged each of his teammates before getting pushed out for one last curtain call as the hometown crowd cheered for him one final time.

Of course Mariano was not alone in shedding tears. There were people shedding tears throughout Yankee Stadium as the moment unfolded. And as I was watching the video I found myself shedding tears as well which certainly caught me by surprise.

Like most of baseball I am not a fan of the Yankees. As I have stated before there were certain Yankee players such as Don Mattingly that I rooted for growing up but by and large the Yankees were always the team that stood in the way of my Orioles and Rays reaching the postseason so it was hard to root for them. I also did not care for the free spending of the Yankees who seemed to treat the other 29 teams as their farm teams and cherry picked free agents from other teams year after year to build their super rosters.

But the moment on the mound Thursday night was not about a Yankee player or any other team for that matter. It was about a man who had given his all taking a curtain call and knowing that there would never be another moment like that.

As was the case during this year’s All Star game players from both teams and the entire crowd gave Mariano Rivera a standing ovation and a tip of the cap for a career played free of controversy in an era that needed players to look up to.

So as I watched the video I too was caught up in the emotion of the moment and had some tears flow. I later learned I was not alone in the show of emotions after the fact as the host of one of the sports talk shows I listen to on the radio admitted that he too had been brought to tears by the moment.

The closest baseball comparison to Mariano’s moment that I can think of in my lifetime was when Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Cal Ripken, Jr Photo R. Anderson

Cal Ripken, Jr
Photo R. Anderson

The baseball schedule had been arranged so that the record breaking moment would take place at the Orioles home ballpark so that the Oriole nation could share in the celebration.

Much like Mariano Rivera, Cal Ripken, Jr. played the game the right way and spent his whole career with the team that drafted him.

I do not think I cried when Ripken broke the record, but I do recall it being a moment of extreme happiness as the player I had followed for as long as I could remember broke what many thought would be an untouchable record.

So like that night so many years before when all eyes were on Cal Ripken, Jr., Thursday night belonged to Mariano Rivera and the fans who wanted to say goodbye.

In the end the Rays won the game 4-0 completing the sweep of the Yankees and keeping a one-game lead for the top spot in the Wildcard.

While the night did not end with Mariano Rivera earning a save, he showed the world that watched it live and those that caught the highlight later online that even grown men can cry now and then on the baseball diamond and that is totally acceptable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson