Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Return of Southern Thunder

The rumble started in the legendary Tarheel home of Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh. It grew through the Palmetto State, echoed off Stone Mountain, cascaded through the Panhandle, and shook the bay to its foundation. After a short absence, the Southern Thunder had returned to the Bay Area.

Buried under the hoops hoopla that was the Orlando Magic celebration was the promotion of "The Southern Thunder" Matt Joyce to the Tampa Bay Rays. Knowing mere minor league hurlers were no longer a match for the greatness of Southern Thunder, the Rays called up Joyce and sent down journeyman right-hander Dale Thayer. Although Thayer's 'stache will be missed, the Southern Thunder could not be denied.

Many feel it is destiny that Southern Thunder make his mark in a Rays uniform. Many moons ago, a gypsy woman foretold of a great "natural" that would come from a quarter short of a score east of ancient Atlantis. Behold, on the day of third day of the eighth month of four score and four years into the 20th century, 15 miles east of Tampa, Florida, Matt Joyce was born.

Born into prophesy, Southern Thunder first picked up the tools of his craft as a youth in the Tampa Bay area. As he grew in stature from a boy to man, his achievements grew from local legend to regional myth. To paraphrase the Sandlot, "people said he was less than a god but more than a man". He was next in a long line of talent that included Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez, Dwight Gooden, and Gary Sheffield. He was indeed the Tampa area's next "natural". Then he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and nearly forgotten.

Fortunately, the bright minds of the Tampa Bay Rays front office knew enough of the Legend of Southern Thunder to bring him back to Tampa in exchange for inconsistent flamethrower Edwin Jackson. It was as if the planets aligned and the gods spoke down from the heavens. Southern Thunder was coming back to the Land of the Lightning.

And now, after a short stint tearing the cover off the ball in charming southern towns such as Durham and Charlotte, Southern Thunder is back in the big leagues and ready to rule in the formerly aptly named Thunderdome.

Of course, and as to be expected, Southern Thunder rang true in his return, taking the Twins' Nick Blackburn deep in his second at-bat.

Welcome back, Southern Thunder.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Tunes for One of the Rays?

As I mentioned last week, Tampa Bay Rays batters are using the same at-bat music in 2009 as they did in 2008 (at least they were as of last Friday). I don't know if the stadium hasn't programmed new music, or the players haven't picked new songs, or they all opted to keep the 2008 sounds going, but I think it is a bit strange.

I bring this up again because Hard Rock is reporting that the band Tantric is releasing a new album on July 21st. Tantric is of course the band responsible for the song "Down and Out" that Evan Longoria comes to bat to.

I wonder if a new Tantric album will mean Longoria will finally change his song. Interesting note: I would guess that save for a few weeks listening to Pantera, every home at-bat Longoria has had during career has been to the same song. Longoria probably leads the Rays in song/career at-bat percentage.

Thought of the day: I wonder if any MLB players pick their song to help drive the sales of artists they know. What if, for example, Evan and Tantric lead singer Hugo Ferreira were friends and Ferreira asked Longoria to come to the plate to a new Tantric single? Are there any rules against that? What if artists paid players to come to bat to their song? What if they did it without the team knowing? Is there anything in the contracts that say players can't do that?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ruminating on the Rays: Looking for new magic to the same old songs

Although they are 4-0 with me in attendance, the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays have so far been a disappointment. Following 2007, a 16-20 record would not have been a bad start. Fans may have even gotten excited over being so close to .500. But unfortunately for the 2009 Rays, the 2008 season happened. 97 wins and a trip to the World Series is a lot to live up to.

There are a lot of theories as to why the Rays are struggling: injuries, regression, the loss of key personalities from 2008, etc, etc. You can read about them on better blogs than mine. I have my own theory, however, on why the Rays are struggling in 2009: no new tunes in Tropicana Field. They are jamming to the same songs from 2008.

Last year, I wrote about the Rays player's at-bat music. This year, they are coming to bat to the same songs. As a matter of fact, some of the harder, more aggressive songs have even been removed from the playlist. Pantera's "Walk" and "I'm Broken" were often played last year before the at-bats of Eric Hinske and Evan Longoria, respectively. Now with Hinske gone and Longoria using only Tantric's "Down and Out", there are no more metal songs in the Rays lineup. Although I can't argue with Longoria's production, I don't know why the team didn't pick new songs for 2009. It would be nice to hear something new, something fresh, and something that proves we are not stuck clinging to 2008.

The lack of head-banging tunes might also be the reason that before Friday night the Rays played as if they had no marbles.

A few weeks ago, RaysTheStakes compared the Rays to the fictional Indians in Major League 2. Although I think they nailed the background and some of the individual comparisons (Pat Burrell as Jack Parkman), I think they were way off on others. For example, instead of comparing Matt Garza to Rick Vaughn's character, I think the more apt comparison is fellow starter Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir has been terrible this season. Absolutely atrocious (4 wins, 3 losses, and a 6.97 ERA). In Friday night's game, he never once topped 90mph with his fastball according to the scoreboard radar gun. Not once. For someone who has led the league in strikeouts, that's pathetic. He hasn't been the ace of the staff in over a year, and there is even growing talk that the Rays would be better off parting ways with him. My personal opinion is that with too many of the Rays pitching prospects still struggling in the minors, trading a big league pitcher, no matter how bad he is, is a risky venture. But if David Price, for example, gets his act together in the minors before Kazmir gets his together at the big club, it might be time to entertain offers for Kid K.

Despite Kazmir's lackluster performance Friday night, he was bailed out when the Rays managed to claw their way back and win with an Upton homer in the bottom of the 9th. If the Rays start playing better, I am sure this game will have a lot to do with it. It may be one of those games the players look back on and call a turning point. Especially BJ Upton, who was definitely due a confidence boost in the power department. However, if Kazmir and fellow struggling starters Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Neimann continue to throw batting practice to the opposition for four or less innings, no amount of offensive confidence and production can save the Rays sinking ship.

And now, without further ado, I present the Rays current leaders in JSIA BA, JSIA HR, JSIA RBIs, and JSIA SB:

Batting Average with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendence:

B.J. Upton: .428 (6 for 14)
Carl Crawford: .385 (5 for 13)
Carlos Pena: .353 (6 for 17)

Home Runs with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

Carlos Pena: 3
Ben Zobrist: 2
4 others tied with: 1

Runs batted in with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

Carlos Pena: 9
Evan Longoria: 7
Ben Zobrist: 5

Stolen Bases with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

BJ Upton: 5
Carl Crawford: 4
Jason Barlett: 2