Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mark Teixeira Plays Stickball in Tampa

Cool story in Tampa Bay Online (via Ybor City Stogie) about New York Yankee first baseman and multi-gabillionaire Mark Teixeira playing stickball with some local teams in the historic Ybor City district of Tampa.

The Florida Stickball League web site has a few videos of the event.

I am confused about why Teixeira is even "playing" first. I thought stickball was played with "automatics". Maybe it's league preference. Whereas here in Florida they use bases, a Troy, NY league and the Uptown Stickball Association of Bayonne, NJ doesn't.

Anyway, good to see Teixeira taking time to play ball with people who play for the love of the game, even if it was a promotional event. Would it be too much to hope a few Tampa Bay Rays players join in local stickball games like the old folks say Brooklyn Dodger, NY Giant, and NY Yankee players used to do back in the day?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thunder Matt MLB Preview 2009: Tampa Bay Rays

2008:97-65, 1st place in AL Eastern Division, American League Champions

SO LONG: OF Rocco Baldelli, OF Cliff Floyd, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Eric Hinske, P Edwin Jackson, P Trevor Miller

WELCOME: OF Pat Burrell, P Lance Cormier, P Jason Isringhausen, OF Matt Joyce, OF Gabe Kapler, P Joe Nelson, P Brian Shouse

PROJECTED LINEUP (actually, this is last year's lineup. This year's lineup depends on Upton's health.)
1. Akinori Iwamora 2B
2. B.J. Upton CF
3. Carl Crawford LF
4. Carlos Pena 1B
5. Evan Longoria 3B
6. Pat Burrell DH
7. Matt Joyce RF
8. Dioner Navarro C
9. Jason Bartlett SS

Starting Rotation: James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel (Where's David Price? Check Triple A.)

Setup: Grant Balfour/Dan Wheeler

Closer: Troy Percival

Welcome to the most important year in Tampa Bay Rays' history.

When we last left the Rays, they were defeated at the hands of the World Series Champion Phillies. They were wet, tired, and probably hungry.

Now, five months later, they have returned as the model of all franchises. Although denied glory, they are the heroes of the underclass. The little market that could. They are the revolutionary who dared to challenge the twin evil empires. They envoked the audacity to upset the establishment, knowing they had little to lose but a past full of defeat.

Like the heroic Tank Man of Tiananamen Square, the Rays of 2008 stood defiant before the Red Sox and Yankees and dared them to run over their upstart season. Despite numerous challenges and scares, the Rays held their ground. While other small market teams cried for salary caps, new stadiums, and other Marxist solutions, the Rays looked for solutions from within, for the talent, drive, and heart necessary to reverse the misfortune of a decade of embarrassment.

The 2009 Tampa Bay Rays, like Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and John Jay, now have to prove their revolution was not only a success, but the beginning of a fruitful nation. Whereas a young America was allowed to prosper in poli-social-economic-military vacuum without any legitimate fears of invasion, the Rays now bear the burden of being the biggest target in the Junior Circuit. They have to protect their burgeoning reputation of success against numerous embarrassed entities with scores to prove.

The Rays enter 2009 without any significant losses. The foundation is still intact and will be for years to come. Many believe the Rays are even stronger now than at this time a year ago. They have acquired the long-range muscle of a Phillie import, while only parting ways with part-time pieces and spot starters. Of course, they also have a year's worth of experience to their credit as well as a bevy of talent in the lower ranks.

Although some might be dared to label the Rays as the benefactor of their own misguidedness, reaping hordes of quality youth through years of wayward failure, those people are fools. Never in history have youth been revolutionary due solely on their age. They need a quality environment in which to blossom and the opportunity to prove to the world they are in indeed for real.

The Rays are here to stay.

(Disclaimer: I am a Rays season ticket holder.)

Preseason Awards:
Mr. Sexy Time: Evan Longoria - How can the AL Rookie of the Year be Mr. Sexy Time? Shouldn't he have already arrived? Not so fast. To quote Rays patron Dick Vitale, Longoria is PTP. He is going to be David Wright-South. If not this year, sometime soon he will be in running for a few MVP Awards. And he drives the ladies in Tampa nuts.

The Sorry Dude, The Bandwagon's Full Award: Lil Wayne, Rob Schnieder, and Jeff Foxworthy - I don't care how "in" rooting for the Rays is. B-list celebs only look even sadder try to hype themselves by putting on Rays hats. Hey Mr. Wayne, you might have survived Hurricane Katrina, but you've never seen suffering unless you sat through a Casey Fossum start.

Best Use of an Afro: The Cowbell Kid. How much I miss the harmonious ring of cowbells.

Further reading:

Friday, March 20, 2009

MLB Preview 2009: New York Mets

2008 Finish: 89-73, 2nd place in NL Eastern Division

SO LONG: OF Moises Alou (retired), P Luis Ayala, P Ambiorix Burgos (good riddance), OF Endy Chavez, 2B Damion Easley (too old), P Aaron Heilman (too ineffective), P Orlando Hernadez (too old), P Pedro Martinez (too hurt), OF Trot Nixon (too ex-Red Sox), P Ricardo Rincon, P Matt Wise

WELCOME: SS Alex Cora, P Elmer Dessens, P Casey Fossum (why?), P Freddy Garcia, P Sean Green, P Livan Hernandez (10 years too late), P J.J. Putz, P Tim Redding, OF Jeremy Reed, P Francisco Rodriguez, P Ron Villone

1. Luis Castillo 2B
2. Carlos Beltran CF
3. Jose Reyes SS
4. David Wright 3B
5. Carlos Delgado 1B
6. Ryan Church RF
7. Daniel Murphy LF
8. Barry Lyons C

Starting Rotation: Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Tim Redding
Setup: J.J. Putz
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez

Here is how everyone else's Mets' preview reads: The Mets, who choked away the last two seasons, bolstered their bullpen with the acquisition of K-Rod and Putz. The offense is still stacked with Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, etc, but the starting rotation is questionable after Santana.

Blah, blah, blah.

Here is what you need to know about the Mets:

They have no direction. The front office has no clue what they are doing and they think they still need to compete with the Yankees. Don't get me wrong, I like Jerry Manuel, but time and my patience is running out on Omar Minaya.

The Mets have once again turned into the stereotypical large market club. They go through phases like that. The last six years however, they haven't hesistated to throw around the dollars. But the problem with the Mets is the market has changed. Acquiring big names rarely solves problems. Continuously throwing money at free agents went out of style around the same time as Limp Bizkit.

So they had a bullpen problem for the last two years. Everyone knows big name closers are not the answer. Especially when the save is the most overrated stat in baseball and you break the bank signing the MLB record holder for saves in a season. I'll give them credit on the JJ Putz trade. They dumped Heilmann and Joe Smith for Putz and Sean Green. Heilmann never fit in anyway. He is a four-inning starter. Now he is the Cubs' problem.

I'll give Mets credit for another thing, they are starting to play a few rookies, particularly LF'er Daniel Murphy. A few other rookies are beginning to permeate the pitching staff, to include Jon Niese, who is having a solid spring.

So what do I predict for the Mets this year? They will definitely be competitive. They may even win the World Series. If that happens, of course, I will deny saying anything bad about them. But for now, I have to complain. I'm a Mets fan, it's my job.

Preseason Awards:

Mr. Sexy Time:
 David Wright. Does it get any easier than this pick? Yes, the Mets are chock full of good players, but some are on the downside of their careers (Delgado), some have peaked (Beltran), and some will only maintain (Reyes). Wright will win an MVP before all is said and done. Probably this year.

The Please Go Away Award: Luis Castillo. Castillo was good on the Marlins back in the early 21st century. In those yesteryears he could run, field, hit, and get on base. Now he is a punch-n-judy slap hitter with bad knees and little ability above that of the small bus kid Little League coaches put in right field (wait, that was me).

The Coolest Name in Baseball Award: Mets 3rd base coach Razor Shines. His name is Razor Shines. It doesn't get funkier than that.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

MLB Preview 2009: Florida Marlins

2008 Season: 84-77, 3rd place in NL Eastern Division

SO LONG: OF Luis Gonzalez, P Kevin Gregg, P Mark Hendrickson, OF Jacque Jones, C Paul Lo Duca, P Joe Nelson, P Arthur Rhodes

WELCOME: P Jose Ceda, P Scott Proctor

1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. John Baker C
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Jorge Cantu 3B
5. Dan Uggla 2B
6. Jeremy Hermida LF
7. Cody Ross RF
8. Gaby Sanchez 1B

Starting Rotation: Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez, Andrew Miller
Setup: Leo Nunez
Closer: Matt Lindstrom

Say hello to the most underrated team in baseball. Did you know the Marlins were second only to the Phillies in team slugging and in home runs last year? Did you know their entire infield averaged over 30 home runs each? Once again, don't be surprised if the Marlins come out of nowhere to sneak into contention in the NL East.

Never a team to make too many big offseason moves, this winter the Marlins' biggest move was sending 24-year old lefty Scott Olson and outfielder Josh "The Hammer" Willingham to baseball purgatory Washington for Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leaguers: second baseman Jake Smolinski and right-hander P.J. Dean. Olson had already peaked in his usefulness for the fish. He was to the Marlins another version of Pat Rapp or Ryan Dempster - just a transition arm until a new batch of kids comes along.

Even with the departure of Olson, the Marlins still feature one of the best starting fives in the National League (although still the second best staff in the state). Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller, and Anibel Sanchez lead a posse of arms that are young, healthy, and scary good. Think Pavano, Beckett, Burnett, Willis, and Penny.

Offensively, the Marlins didn't lose much from 2008. Only the aforementioned Willingham and first baseman Mike Jacobs. Taking their place is super prospect Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez, respectively. Both will be interesting to watch. Maybin was the centerpiece of the much maligned trade with Detroit that sent over Miggy Cabrera (who has since ate himself to firstbase) and Dontrelle Willis (who immediately contracted Steve Blass Disease) and Sanchez is a native Miamian who also went to the University of Miami. How they both play now that the pressure is on will determine how well the Marlins do in 2009.

The Mr. Sexy Time Award: (no-brainer) Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is the best shortstop not only in his division (over Rollins and Reyes), but in the entire major leagues. Yes, he is still not the greatest fielder in the world, but he brings an array of offensive firepower not seen in any position, no less at short. The Marlins also recognize Ramirez's vast ability, signing him to a long-term contract, a deal almost unheard of in South Florida.

The Going Green Award: Jorge Cantu and Dallas McPherson (tie). Both of these gentlemen were left on the scrap heap of baseball talent. Instead of recreating prospects and letting these two go to waste, the Marlins took Cantu and McPherson, dusted them off, shined them up, and put them back on the field. Cantu responded with 29 home runs, 95 RBIs, and an over .800 OPS and McPherson hit 42 home runs in Triple A.

The Famous Blunder Award: The Chicago Cubs. As many people know, there are several classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Then, there is the most prominent baseball blunder: Never Trade Pitching With The Marlins. When was the last time the Marlins got ripped off in a swap of pitchers? It doesn't happen. No pitcher, save for Trevor Hoffman, leaves the Marlins and does unexpectedly better with their new team. The Marlins always get the better end of trading arms. So, with that in mind, seven years after trading Dontrelle Willis and several other arms for journeyman reliever Antonio Alfonseca, the Cubs yet again tempted the fates and dealt prospect Jose Ceda to the Marlins for mediocre-at-best spot reliever Kevin Gregg.

Further Reading:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Grapefruit League Tour 2009 Stop 2: Mets at Nationals, Viera, Fla.

Yesterday marked my second excursion to Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne Viera, Florida. In 2007, I watched the Nationals take on the visiting Dodgers. This year's visit pitted the Nationals versus my beloved New York Mets.

First, a few notes on Space Coast Stadium: back in '07, I commented how the Nationals organization had re-done Space Coast Stadium and removed any and all traces of the Marlins time at the facility. Well now the Marlins are long gone. Yet there is still work that needs to be done at the Nationals' spring training stadium to make it a more enjoyable experience.

1) Upon entering Space Coast Stadium, there is no sign to point visitors in the right direction. Every other ballpark I have visited has at least one sign to guide fans to their seat. Signs that state "Sections X thru Y --->" or "Sections A thru B 
2) There were no roaming vendors. None. I was shocked. The ballpark experience falls just a little bit when I don't hear someone shilling peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, or even beer. All guests as Space Coast Stadium had to visit the concession stands.

3) Lack of ushers. This goes with point #1. Most other stadiums I have been to have numerous ushers to direct guests to their seat or even check their tickets to ensure they are in the right place. Space Coast Stadium had a few ushers, but all the limited few of them did was stand around and watch the game. They seemed useless.

4) No mascot, no dancing grounds crew, no cheerleaders, and a useless Public Address announcer. There was nothing at the ballpark to excite the fans except for the game. Although many fans may think the lack of extraneous entertainment is a good thing, good or bad, I found it oddly absent. I guess I am used to seeing something attempting to entertain me between innings, or someone trying to get the crowd excited. Space Coast Stadium seemed rather bland in the customer experience department.

As for the game: Due to the World Baseball Classic, the visting Mets were playing mostly minor leaguers - prospects such as Wilmer Flores and Ike Davis. On the mound starting for the Mets was ancient right-hander Livan Hernandez. Livan makes me feel old, as I remember his rookie season with the Marlins back in '97. Now he is a cagey vet, surviving only on his experience, cunning, and guile.

The Nationals, on the other hand, played many of their big leaguers - players such as ex-Met Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, and Ryan Zimmerman. On the hill for the Nationals was John Lannon.

The game was your average spring fling: lots of errors (including a very surprising bone-headed mistake by Zimmerman), many random pitching changes, and lack of all-around quality play. There was no doubt the best of the Mets was not on the field.

Funny side note: back in 2007, the Tampa Bay then-Devil Rays had what many today call the worst bullpen in major league history. Coming out of that pen on a near-daily basis was right-hander Gary Glover and lefty Brian Stokes. Both of them pitched like garbage for the Devil Rays. During yesterday's contest I saw both of them: Stokes pitched the bottom of the 7th for the Mets, and Glover closed out the game for the Nationals. My condolences to either team if they are relying on these ex-Devil Rays to be a key part of their bullpens.

The final was 8-3, advantage Nationals. Washington is now 2-0 when I visit. 

Once again, I have written too much and said too little. If you want the details of the game, click here:

Mets at Nationals

Next stop: Disney World on March 21 or Port Charlotte on March 22.