Finally! Baseball is back!!

Welcome back Rays!

It was a LONG offseason! I’m ready for a new start and ready for the 2012 Baseball season. I’ll admit, it was hard leaving 2011 the way we did, the Rays Way! But to say the least, the start of this year has made me think long and hard about how we should approach this year. There were a lot of changes made within each team in the league. As much as I wish I could say that I don’t care about them, I really do. Because what they add to their team will affect us just as much as what we don’t add to our team.

I started this year with my fantasy lineup. In years past, I have picked my own teams. This year, I let the computer do the thinking for me. I would have to say that it wasn’t too bad. I did miss out on key transactions but my team is workable. I just have to think of strategic ways to win, but how do I do that if I can’t control the players on my team? Well, I study the players on the other teams. Which players do I have that can “out play” the players on the other team? Strategy, maybe? I good defense can sometimes be better than a fantastic offense? Seems twisted, but is this how Maddon thinks when he puts his players on the daily roster? Lots of silly questions, but I think it’s time to give it a try.

The Rays have six starters. James Shields is the good ole’ Veteran of the team. If he is having a bad day, it’s never good for the team. David Price, ah yes, the jokester of the group. If he plays as well as he tweets, we would be good as golden! Jeremy Hellickson, Mr. Rookie of the Year, he’s stellar! I wish I could have drafted him on my fantasy team. He just needs to stay healthy and strong. And, he needs to stay away from bullpen’s and homerun balls before games  Jeff Neimann, the tall tower of the bunch. He has been hit or miss early on, but once he gets started, he is dynamic! After all, he needs to keep his spot in the rotation. Matt Moore, the true rookie of the team. He is very young, but don’t let it fool you. If he gets on a roll early, you may never score on this kid. I predict a very good year from him. You can’t forget Wade Davis. He may be in the bullpen as a long reliever, but never count him out as a starter.

Carlos Pena rejoins the squad from an average season with the Cubs. In my opinion, he should have never left. He has been solid for us and a natural leader. Luke Scott joins the team after having a rough year. Both are very good additions to the offensive lineup and not to mention making their presence very clear with Grand Slams for each! Jeff Keppinger joins the group. I’ve got high hopes for him, too. I’m excited to see what these three can do for the team.

Naturally, the regulars return with a goal of making it to the World Series. I wonder what Joe Maddon has up his sleeve this year. It’s always fun to watch him play with the lineup. Evan Longoria officially announces that he is in a relationship. How will that work out for him? Who knows, but I do know that what happens off the field, stays off the field. He appears very poised and confident. This should be an interesting year for him. Desmond Jennings makes his sophomore year appearance. He looks very good, but I think he still has a lot to learn. He has so much potential. If we could get B.J. Upton to come back healthy, we could have double trouble with stealing bases. Let’s face it, we really need it. Since Carl Crawford left for Boston, we don’t have the back to back stealing power that we did when he and Upton were together. Matt Joyce has matured tremendously on the field and is growing into his role perfectly. I can’t complain too much about the home grown player. Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and Ben Zobrist come back strong! Super Sam starts the season off with surgery. I’m going to miss his crazy on field catches. Get well soon! We officially have one of the Molina brothers on the team now! It’s very exciting to have such a diverse team. I’m feeling very good vibes for 2012.

There was a lot of hype regarding the Rays having the best pitching staff in the league. My fear is that the Rays are mentally so good that they can’t project it onto the field. I don’t argue that fact one bit, but I worry that the hype might have some type of mental affects on the players. Call it a mental block if you will. If we can defensively destroy the other teams, I think we can make it to the end. If I could take one thing away from 2011, it will be that the Rays make it to the Playoff’s in 2012. And, if we stay healthy, steady, and strong we will be just fine. Please no more game 162’s. Let’s just get out ahead and stay ahead. Go Rays!

Welcome Back Tampa Bay Rays!

There was a slight breeze, light clouds, and bright blue skies. There was calm in the air, peaceful chirps from the birds nearby. There were laughs and giggles that flowed through the air as I opened my eyes. A whisper in my ear, “Can you feel it? Can you hear it? It’s finally here! It’s time for BASEBALL!”

Spring Practice started yesterday and to kick off the events, the Rays held Fanfest last Saturday, February 18, 2012 and of course I attended. As we drove to Tropicana Field, I looked around and realized how big this event has become. In years past, we were able to park up close. This year, we were in the last row of the main parking lot. It’s amazing to see how many fans there are in this area. My first thought, “I wish all of these fans would come out to every game throughout the season.” It was nice to see the lines for autographs, the kids running around (my child included), and the excitement on everyone’s face that Baseball is finally here!

This year, I didn’t stand in line for autographs nor did I take the locker room tour. It’s pretty much the same stuff every year. But, what I did do was stand in Center Field. I stood there while my son kept my husband busy. I did a complete 360 starting with the right field, then outfield, then left field, and then back to home plate. It was amazing to see how many people could fit inside and on the turf of Tropicana Field. I stood there in awe and said to myself, “if this many people could come out to every game, this stadium would be rocking every night!” Then, the reality sunk in when I realized it won’t happen every night or in any game unless it’s a Post Season game. But that’s Ok because at that time and at that moment, I could only look around and be proud that I was standing in Center Field of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Practices for the Rays are down in Port Charlotte. If you haven’t made it down there yet, you really need to consider it. It’s a nice stadium with four practice fields and a few extras. We try to make it out there twice during the week of practice to watch the starters and the invitee’s. It’s good for the family because my son can get out and play and my husband can watch the players practice. For me, it’s a win-win. The park is about two hours from where I live, but its well worth the drive. You can see the players in their element. They laugh, play, and practice. It’s good to see them have so much fun. Although, we didn’t get to enjoy the full park as it wasn’t the first day of workout, we did get to watch from a distance.

Every year the practices get bigger and bigger. It’s always a good thing. I’ve been to a few Spring Training Facilities and I can honestly say that the Rays are very fan friendly. You can watch up close when they are practicing. The players are genuine and you can see that they truly appreciate the fans driving down to watch them practice. I usually people watch. I like to watch the interactions between the players and the interactions between the players and fans. And, every now and then, you can see Andrew Friedman making a cameo appearance.

There is something that caught my attention this early in the season that I normally don’t see until after the All-Star Game. There’s a calm sense of “if we could make the playoffs in 162 games, then we can do anything” attitude. There’s a bright smile on the players faces. And, there’s something different about the team that wasn’t there last year. I could feel it and that feeling is CONFIDENCE! The off season was very active and kind to the Rays with the return of Carlos Pena and pick up of Luke Scott and Jeff Keppinger. I, personally, have not seen the Rays this relaxed in my life.

This feeling is amazing and fantastic. Keep it up boys! I think the Rays are here to compete, contend, and win! The goal this year: World Series 2012!! Welcome back Tampa Bay Rays! Here’s to 2012!

Go RAYS!

Flashback to the 2011 Rays

2011 was filled with plenty of ups and downs for Baseball World. Let’s do this in Rayschicjunkie fashion shall we?

As the close of the 2010 season came to an end, we knew there were going to be trades and key players leaving. We just didn’t realize how bad it was going to be. I know that I thought I was ready for what was going to come, but after the first major blow to the gut with Carl Crawford signing with the Red Sox, I didn’t know if I was ready for the rest of what was going to happen. Shortly after, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, and Rafael Soriano left to join teams that needed them dearly. My personal loss was Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena. Two key players in the infield that I wasn’t sure the Rays could replace. Next to go, the entire Bull Pen! My thought for that month of the departures was “What in the world are the Rays thinking? Could the front office really have something in their back pocket? How are we going to contend if everyone is gone?” The answer I came up with was “Faith, just keep believing. We have a great front office and a Manager that could make anything work with what we have.” And so the story begins……

The offseason brought new faces and new changes with the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. My hopes were renewed! But really, Manny..I had hopes..HIGH hopes for him. Turns out he couldn’t get past the old days. Instead of facing the suspensions, he retires. That sent the team into a downward spiral at least that was my perspective. What next? What are we going to do? Ahhh…the return of JP Howell, but that didn’t spark my interest too much. He looked great in Practice and Spring Training. My worries, we still don’t have a closer! Not to worry, Joe Maddon worked his magic and the bull pen stepped up!

The front line, aka the starting pitchers! Boy did they step up! With a lineup that included, David Price, James Shields, Jeff Neimann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson and the new kid on the block for a surprise appearance Matt Moore, this has been one the best starting rotations I have ever seen! This pitching staff consists of all players under the age of 30! James Shields, as the veteran of the squad, lead the team to an unimaginable year! Not to knock Mr. David Price, but Shields, you sure did come out strong and you didn’t stop. That is what I call leadership. Combined, the starting pitchers threw 64 wins, 52 losses, 15 complete games and 5 complete game shutouts with Big Game James leading the team with a record 11 complete games and 4 of those were shut outs. Sounds like a winning record to me.

Winning couldn’t come at a better time than after the All-Star break! Joe Maddon did something that only he could think to save the front line. I think he knew that the bull pen was going to need help, so what better way to help them out than to put in a sixth starter in the rotation to help give the other starters an extra day of rest and to help them pitch past six innings. Crazy you say? Yes, but guess what it worked. This man is a GENIUS!

What else do you need to make a run to the playoffs? Oh yes, that’s right, the batters. Going into September, who could have thought that the Titanic would sink again in 2011? The Red Sox had it made. They could see the playoffs within a mile of walking distance, and what did they do? They choked, hit an iceberg and sank like the mighty Titanic! I have to say Thank You to the Red Sox for letting it slip away, but I can’t give you all the thanks as the Rays kept going and didn’t quit. The media gave up on the Rays and wouldn’t give any chances that they could make it in the playoffs. As September started to play out in good ole baseball fashion, the Rays rose to the occasion with key hits from Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, Desmond Jennings, Dan Johnson, BJ Upton, and Matt Joyce. It was good to see the team in Unity and not divided like the sinking Red Sox.

A special thank you from this Rayschicjunkie to all of the Rays Fans that stuck it out til the end. Don’t give up hope on our team. The Rays are special to us and without them in the Bay Area, it wouldn’t be the same. One of the biggest distractions for the team was the structure that surrounded the team. MLB is pushing hard to get the Rays a new stadium and with the media focusing more on the structure than the team, it was a major distraction that the players just couldn’t shrug off. Maddon, Longoria, and Price all spoke out about the stadium, but in reality, in one of my earlier blogs, they shouldn’t be thinking about that. Let the front office handle the structure and play like you’ve never played before. Prove on the field that you deserve a new stadium and in due time you will get it, but for now, think of the team. It’s the only way to stay positive and succeed. The Rays have plenty to be thankful for this year.

2011 Rays you did it! You proved to the world that you are a force and you won’t go away. I am proud of you. And if this is just the beginning of what will come next year, I can’t wait! Spring Training can’t come soon enough!

Rayschicjunkie out! See ya in February 2012!

A little motivation goes a long ways!!!

Here we go again! Underdogs as usual, down 2-1. It’s down to the wire. We need to focus on the game and play it for all its worth. Rays, you have come a long way to stop now. We believe in you!

Let’s talk about last night.  Last night David Price pitched. Ok, not a bad idea.  Quite honestly it scared me a bit.  David Price has been even with his pitching. I’ve asked a few people what they think about him. The general consensus is “he is up and down. You don’t know which Price you’re going to get when he is on the mound.” Ouch! A bit critical from Rays enthusiast’s right?  Well, I agree. I haven’t seen the David Price that I am used to seeing.  It seems like he is in that well known Sophomore Average Slump.  To be honest, I believe he is putting a lot of pressure on himself and the key to win is to be confident and to relax.  Mr. Price, you have done well. You need to roll up your sleeve and relax. Play the game for what it’s worth and you will be fine.

Now, let’s talk about batters. I have preached all year long, on Twitter, that in order to win the big games you have to have big bats. You can have the most stellar pitching of all time, but without hitting you got nothing! You know what I would like to see, a game between the Phillies and the Rays. Talk about stellar pitching! Guess who is going to win that series…I’ll leave you to your opinions on that one. Wouldn’t it be funny if it came down to a rematch of the 2008 World Series? How great would that be! Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee versus James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Neiman, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore! Holy Cow that would be a good game. 

Game 4 is today. It’s do or die for the Rays. This series is going to be a nail bitter.  I work down the street from Tropicana Field and to feel the electricity of the stadium is amazing! Hellickson takes the mound today.  I’m hoping the bats come alive for him.  This is a big game Hellboy! No pressure! Just think of it as a regular game and you will be fine.  No need to put any pressure on yourself, right? Rays, this I say to you. Please, Please, Please, come in with the determination and the drive to take this game to the next level.  Please don’t come in with the mentality that you have already lost. We have seen you come back from a 9-0 game deficit and a last minute come back on game 162. YOU CAN DO THIS! You have been the underdog all season and for you to get this far, you can’t quit now! The fans need you to win! You need to win this for you, the team! We all BELIEVE in you!

GOOOO RAYS!!

Rays of Hope

Well how about that? The most exciting night of baseball I have ever witnessed happened last night!  I have to thank the Baltimore Orioles for taking down the dreaded Red Sox!

Secondly, l know many of the Tampa Bay folks are wondering the same thing I am,”How does Crawford feel now?” Personally, I think that if there was any question on replacing him, the answer should be clear now. Jennings has been amazing and Damon has been clutch.

I will have to say that Dan Johnson has stepped up his game again, just like in 2008! And, to have Longoria end the game with a Walk Off Homerun! PRICELESS! Speaking off priceless, David Price, you really should be thanking the bull pen for saving the game and the season.

Enough said. It all came to the last game of the season. I am proud to say that I never stopped believing. Next matchup, Rays at Rangers. My opinion, Rays take it. Reason: Rays have heart and good memory. It’s payback time Rangers!

GOOOOO RAYS!

Wildcard Madness. Do you believe now?

Who knew it would come down to game 162? I sure didn’t. Here we are in late September and we have the WILDEST Wild Card race I’ve ever witnessed. It’s been one heck of a season. Who would have thought that the two AL teams with the worst starting record of the year would be the last two AL teams competing for the Wild Card race? My previous predictions of the O’s being the one to watch…well, they will definitely be the one to watch tonight. Fingers crossed that they can help us make it to the post season.

This is what I predicted in early April on Boston: “I don’t think that Boston will come off as strong as everyone else thinks. They may have a great line of batters, but we shall see. I don’t think their rotation will be as great. I truly don’t think the veterans will be able to overcome the injuries. But who knows, I could be wrong.” If they lose tonight, I could be a self proclaimed GENIUS! I’m not going to look past tonight’s game yet, because anything can happen.

What did I say about the Rays? Let’s take a gander shall we? “The Rays have something no one else has. And that’s Chemistry. Yes, a few big players left, and Yes, I am bias, but I will stand by my true belief that Manny is going to succeed far greater than any reporter or baseball announcer thinks. He has a lot to prove, and I think he has done wonders for the team.” Ok Ok…I admit. I was wrong about Manny. I did have high hopes for him. The Rays do have chemistry and it’s stronger than any other team out there.

My predictions of the Yanks, I was wrong there, too. Ok so maybe I’m not the self proclaimed genius I thought I was, but really, they came out swinging. And to win in the AL, your team has to move the bat. Bottom line!

I think I can truly speak for more than myself when I say that we, the Tampa Bay Area, are very proud of the Rays. And, we are very glad to have you in the area. Tonight’s the big night. To come from 9 games back and make it this far, we are so proud of you. I also say to you, if you didn’t believe in early April, you should start believing now. To paraphrase the best manager in baseball today, “We have to take care of our team first and play our game. The rest will fall in place. We have a great ball club. You either believe or you don’t believe, and if you don’t believe I don’t think you come out with the same attitude.”

Go Rays!!

Just Chatter…

I’m back!! How about that month of April!! Can we say crazy?

It’s exactly what I thought. The Rays right now are playing the same as they did in Spring Training, but more improved. What can we even say about our starters? Shields with 2 complete games and Price almost with 2 complete games. I am excited.

I took a peek at the other teams and realized that the Indians have the best record in MLB today. Really? That’s surprising. It is only May though, I guess. As expected, Boston is coming back and the Yanks look like they have no idea what they are doing. The off season was terrible for the Yanks! Sorry for your luck! I think to much of my surprise, the O’s have been the real shocker for me. I really thought they were going to do better than they are right now. Like in football, any given Sunday right??

I have to be frank with you. The Rays right now have the best team in the East. Yes, I am biased, but it’s true. If you look at the numbers and you look at then pitching, you have to agree. Our guys are really stepping up and I am very impressed. I do have one bit of chatter that I have to argue. As much as everyone complains about attendance, I am over it! Look at all the other MLB games. There are so many teams that have worse attendance than the Rays! Shocking! NOT!!

It makes no sense to me that everyone is complaining about something that you can’t fix right now. It also doesn’t help that the Tampa Bay Lightning Bolts have made it to the next round in the playoffs. Great Job Bolts! On average, more than 20, 000 people have filled the St. Pete Times Forum for the playoffs. While at the same time the Bolts are playing across the bay, the Rays are playing fantastic games and can only pull in more than 10, 000. Those 10, 000 people are mostly season ticket holders, and believe me because I was one of them. If we could get all the fans in one stadium from the Forum and the Trop downtown….HOLY COW!! That would be a sell out for every game!! But, yes, realistically, it probably won’t happen. I work in Downtown Tampa. I see all the fans driving through for every game. My opinion, as much as I love the Trop., it needs to move to Downtown Tampa. Even on a regular work day, people WILL make the time to go to the baseball games. I see it everyday for the hockey team. Yes, they are in the playoffs, but even on an average hockey game day, the Forum is packed.

I sometimes stand outside looking at Tampa and think to myself, if Football and Hockey can work in Tampa, why not Baseball?? I really am tired of the chatter. I would like the Tampa Bay Area to work together to keep the Rays. I would hate for the team to leave because of the bickering between the two counties. St. Pete Mayor, to you I say, give it up! If the Rays end up leaving the Bay area, rest assured that all fingers will point to you. I understand the legalities of the situation, but as a community, there is one thing that unites this area in hard times like today. And, that’s Sports!! It’s something to think about.

GO RAYS!!!!

Bandwagoners..this is your stop! Please exit now and don’t turn back!

Here we go!

Hop off bandwagoners! This is your stop. Please exit in a single file line and don’t look back. You are no longer invited to be a Rays fan!

Yes, you got it. We are 1-8! Are you really surprised? Think about it folks. We traded or released so many players this year that even I didn’t think that we would be this bad. But, I have high hopes. We may not make it near the predictions that I previously stated; however, we still have a great pitching staff. Or do we? Or maybe it’s too early in the season? Or maybe we are just playing too hard? Maybe we should just relax? Maybe we should fire the hitting coach? This is my opinion, we have too many MAYBE’s that we aren’t looking at the realistic approach. We have a completely NEW team, with NEW players that have not played a full time gig in the Majors. PERHAPS, the media should just slow down and look at that aspect.

Now, Bandwagoner’s, I truly appreciate you being around when we are winning, but I do not appreciate you around when we are losing. So, this is what I propose: Stay true to YOUR team and stay away from mine!!! The players don’t need your negativity. Much less, need your fake support. The players want you to root for them because you like the team, not because it is convenient for you. I have news for you. You are not welcomed here in Tampa Bay!

Yes, we have started off on shaky grounds. Perhaps, we have clinched some record for having the best losing team. The season is young and we need to be there to support our team, players, and coaches! Fans this is for you: Get off your high horse and put some pep in your step! We need to let our team realize that we are still there for them and that we truly support them.

Rays, I appreciate you and hope that we can get better with the year! I will be here for you. You can be 1-161 and I will still be here for you! Keep your head up and know that not every year will not be a golden year, but make what you have left a great year! Relax and show the baseball world that you don’t suck and that you can come back!

GOOOOOOOO RAYS!!!!!!!!

AL East Predictions..Who will make it to the top!

Only 4 days to go and we have the start of the 2011 season.  I am ready! There are a lot of subjects to talk about, but I think I am going to focus on just one, my predictions.  After thinking long and hard about how this year will play out, I believe that we will finish second. ONLY because I think the bullpen is extremely inexperienced.

I believe that we that our starters will be strong and still believe that we have the best rotation in the AL.  If we had at least Benoit, we could easily make a run for it, but we don’t.  Farnsworth will be a great addition.  He is greatly underestimated and can be our silent creeper.

I don’t think that Boston will come off as strong as everyone else thinks.  They may have a great line of batters, but we shall see.  I don’t think their rotation will be as great.  I truly don’t think the veterans will be able to overcome the injuries. But who knows, I could be wrong. 

The Yankees did not have a great off season, and I’m not sure they even had an off season.  I do know that they are going to have to compete to finish 3rd in the AL East.  I don’t think the players have the chemistry that the Rays and Red Sox have to compete for the title.  They have a lot of work to do.

I believe the O’s are going to be the True Silent Creeper.  Mark my words, they are going to come out of the gate like lightning and they have a fantastic Manager! They have worked hard in the off season to strengthen the morale of the team. They may not make it to the top, but they will be a force in the years to come.

The Blue Jays, well, I will be honest. I don’t know much about them except for the fact that they train in Dunedin.  They lost a few great players, but all around, I think they will finish last.

The Rays have something no one else has. And that’s Chemistry.  Yes, a few big players left, and Yes, I am bias, but I will stand by my true belief that Manny is going to succeed far greater than any reporter or baseball announcer thinks.  He has a lot to prove, and I think he has done wonders for the team.

Let’s do this Rays!

 

Skipper Maddon

Let’s talk line up! How many lineups are we going to have this year? 26? 42? Who knows when you have a skipper like Maddon. I believe we have extended his contract through 2012. I guess the hot topic should be “Which players are going to make the 40 man roster?” I have my picks. Do you?

Maddon is very strategic with his line up. After all, he has been doing this for some time. He was with the Angels for awhile, but never really had a winning record. He joined the Rays in 2005 and boy was that a year to start. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays…wow has the team evolved. I think it’s amazing what a manager can do to develop a team.

He has lead the team to 2 ALCS Titles and managed to win the 2008 Manager of the Year. Well deserved! To bring a team that was literally sinking like the Titanic to being a team that the Yanks and Red Sox now try and scout out the players. I mean really Red Sox, why did you have to open your mouth and say something about Crawford. We get to face you tomorrow for the first time. Oh what fun that will be!

All jokes aside, Maddon has one of the most creative and intuitive managers I have ever seen. I am sure there are many that will doubt my opinion and to you I say, “Why bother!” Maddon, hats off to you!