Friday, October 21, 2011

A Letter to Stu Sternberg

Dear Stu,

You might not know me. My name is Michael Lortz and I write here occasionally. I have also shared a season ticket package with friends or owned my own season ticket package every year since 2008. I’ve probably been to approximately 100 Rays games since 2008 and consider Game 162 of the 2011 season as one of the greatest moments of my life as a baseball fan. You and your operations people have done a fantastic job of transforming the on-the-field product since you came aboard and I commend you for that.

But I am not writing you to talk about baseball. I am writing you in regards to your connection with the fan base. I’m writing you because as a concerned fan it appears not enough people enjoy your product like I do. I believe you and the Tampa Bay Rays organization are not capturing the hearts and minds of the Tampa Bay area as well as you should.

Before I begin, let me address the elephant in the room and the inspiration for this letter. I know you are often asked by members of the media about the lack of attendance. Few writers in the mainstream can talk about the Rays without talking about us, the fan base, and those comments and questions eventually reach you. That they repeatedly ask doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are your answers. You have often spoken in a detached manner about us. Maybe enough of us haven’t met your expectations. But that doesn’t mean those who do go to the games, who do buy the merchandise, who do watch telecasts regularly deserve to be lumped in with those whose hearts you haven’t yet won over.

How about telling the media that the Rays have “the greatest fans in the world”, even if you don’t think it’s true? Like a woman, we respond well to compliments. Hearing from you that not enough of us go to games and that you might eventually move the team if we don’t get our collective butts to the ballpark is like telling your wife her dress actually does makes her look fat. It might be true, but you shouldn’t say it.

Although I am not privy to your behind-the-scenes discussions with players, coaches, and other personnel, I doubt you talk about them in the manner you discuss us. Have you ever said publicly that if BJ Upton or Evan Longoria or even James Shields don’t perform up to your expectations they will be moved out of the Tampa Bay area? If you don’t talk about your employees like that, please don’t make those comments about those who are supposed to buy your product. You don’t attract bees with vinegar, Stu.

Second, I would like to talk to you about “Moneyball”.  As a baseball person, I’m sure you are familiar with the story and now movie of Billy Bean and the state of the Oakland A’s after the departure of Jason Giambi, our own Johnny Damon, and brief Rays pitcher Jason Isringhausen. I’m sure many of your baseball operations staff are also familiar with the story as well.

In Moneyball, the A’s front office realizes that regardless of where the runs come from, the goal is a cumulative amount of runs scored and to allow no greater than a lesser amount. Your goal, as I see it, is to make money. That is your bottomline, whether those dollars come from tickets, hot dogs, t-shirts, corporate funding, or advertising. According to, in 2008 you needed 168 million in total operating costs. I am going to guess your bottomline goal in 2012 is close to, if not slightly over 175 million dollars. I am also going to guess it doesn’t matter where that money comes from. You could have 175 million fans paying one dollar or one fan who paid 175 million for an exclusive season.

This year you competed and won with a payroll at least 50% below average in your division. That is outstanding. Yet your attendance lagged in the bottom of the league. I’m sure you know the gory details, but over the last five years, the Rays have ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 9th, and 13th in attendance in the American League. If you match those positions with the equivalent losses in the American League, that would be 96 (TB), 88 (Det), 87 (Tor), 81 (Det), and 95 (Sea). The average in the standings are equivalent to a team that loses 89 games a season.

Stu, I would think if the team was losing 90 games a season, you would look at and re-evaluate your baseball operations staff, and of course you did that. Now with you not wholly satisfied and the fan base not performing to your expectations, have you taken a deep look to see if your marketing staff is doing all it can? I know the Rays strive for that extra 2% on the ballfield, but unfortunately you are losing 19% in the stands. Your franchise preaches finding another way on the field, yet when it comes to marketing and promotions, you seem to run business as usual.

Although I am as much of a Marketing Expert as I am a Baseball Operations Expert, which is to say not much, I see the Rays applying different techniques in Player Development but seemingly employing the same tried techniques of Fan Development that all other teams do. I do not think with your current situation you can market the Rays as you would market the Yankees, the Dodgers, or the Cubs. Because of the Rays demographic environment, you can’t rely on the same methodology those teams rely on to attract fans. If you can win the AL Wild Card with a 50 million dollar budget, then you can also make your financial goals of a successful Major League Team with the obstacles in place in Tampa Bay. You just have to think differently.

I know baseball is baseball and that alone should be enough to draw fans. You are in the business of selling baseball entertainment and we are the buyers. The bottom line, however, is that you are not only in the business of putting a good team on the field and winning games, and while here in Tampa Bay you are also in the business of entertaining people. And to do that you must understand what is entertainment means to a Floridian.

Curious, I took a look at your Front Office page on the Rays website. There are at least 40 names in your baseball operations staff, yet there are only 10 in your Marketing and Community Relations. Ten. While you have several “baseball research and development” personnel, you have no “market and demographic analysis” folks in your marketing department. That strikes me as odd, considering your franchise’s current struggles.

While being a fan is not something you can measure statistically and hence use the same methodology of your baseball operations staff, I would like to see the Rays do more to increase passion in the team in 2012. While it is true you have done some creative individual promotions and you have captured a loyal and dedicated social media fanbase, I don’t think you have done everything possible to win the hearts and minds of Tampa Bay. Most importantly, you haven’t emphasized pride in being a Rays fan. You haven’t created a “Rays Family”.

You need to involve fans more in 2012 than you ever have. May I offer a few suggestions?

One: You could have a youtube-based contest for Biggest Rays Fan and Best Rays Family. Many talent shows on television do this and they are wildly successful. Maybe you could offer the winner some sort of season ticket package.

Second: You could capture .gifs of scoreboard shots and upload them on a Tumblr page. If you are not familiar with these web terms, I’m sure your marketing team is. Fans already enjoy seeing themselves on the scoreboard, why not let them download those short video captures to their personal blogs, website, Facebook, or Tumblrs?

Third: You could have a Ladies Night. Ladies Nights are familiar and successful in bars throughout the area and there is no reason why you couldn’t use the same idea. Perhaps ladies can buy walk up tickets for half off one Friday per month and can get half off alcohol and food until the fifth inning. Of course, there would be a two drink limit per customer per purchase.

Fourth: You could also experiment with more free nights. I know you had a ticket give-away night in 2010 that was very well attended. How about using that same strategy for a Tuesday game against a traditionally less-competitive opponent in the middle of July? The only stipulation is that all food or drink must be purchased at the stadium – fans are not allowed to bring in food or drink. If the goal is to make a certain amount of money per game, does it matter if the income comes from tickets or concessions? You might even do a lottery for free lower level seats.

Fifth: You could do more with other local entertainment venues. How about a Dali night with uniforms designed by a famous Dali-inspired artist recommended by the Dali Museum? I think it would be very interesting to see Dali-inspired scoreboard videos and player introductions.

You might also look at cross-promotion with Busch Gardens. Maybe even bring an elephant and a giraffe through Gate 6 and into centerfield after a game. You could do this on a Sunday along with a kids’ day. In turn, you could have some of the Rays players promote Busch Gardens.

Sixth: More cowbell. The cowbell has been sadly marginalized as a symbol of the Rays since 2009. While other teams are still waving their victory towels, the sound of cowbells has been decreasing in recent years. The cowbell made us original. It gave us a unique sound – something to rally around. And best of all, it drove the fan bases of other teams insane.

More than anything, we need to create a community of Rays fans. We need to celebrate the people that go to Tropicana Field, whether it’s everyday or once a year. We need to promote and rally around the characters of the Trop, whether they be the “Left, Right, Left, Right” folks far above home plate, the Cowbell Kid, or anyone else who wants to step to the plate to represent the Rays fanbase. Whereas we used to have “The Johnnies” for Johnny Gomes and the bare-chested Kazmir fans, we need to foster the creation of new characters. Maybe even discounted tickets for costumed fans.

In conclusion, Mr. Sternberg, I love your product. I love the Rays and I love going to the Trop. It is the home park for our local team and will be so for 2012 and in the immediate future. I want everyone else to love the Rays as much as I do. But I can’t do it myself. I need your help.

Thank you, best of luck this offseason, and see you in April,

Michael Lortz

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moneyball: The Anti Major League Movie

Last week I finally saw Moneyball. While the baseball community knows Moneyball for its unique perspective on team building, Moneyball is also unique as a baseball movie.

As in the book, Moneyball the movie focuses on the struggle of the Oakland A's to rebuild after the departure of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen. While the story of plucky underdogs who make the playoffs after their superstars leave the team is not unusual in Hollywood, Moneyball writer Aaron Sorokin’s choice to follow the writing of author Michael Lewis and focus on General Manager Billy Beane is unique for a baseball movie.

Possibly the greatest baseball movie to use the underdog theme with a focus on the players was Major League, starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, etc. While both movies are about a team of misfits, Major League focuses on the players and their quests on the ballfield, in the dugout, and in other places where teams collate. Moneyball on the other hand is the behind-the-scenes story of creating a team, making trades, and obtaining players. The focus is on Bean, his hiring of his young mathematical assistant, and his struggle to push a new numbers-based organizational philosophy.

There is no mathematical wizardry in assembly of the Cleveland Indians in Major League. Whereas the Oakland A’s drafted predominantly college pitchers with proven track records and minimized draft risks, the Indians took a flyer on a young right-hander in the California Penal League named Rick Vaughn. While the A’s signed David Justice to DH and milk whatever skills they could from his veteran body, the Indians relied on gimpy-kneed Jake Taylor to fill the toughest position on the field. The A’s looked for patient hitters who can take the occasional walk; the Indians signed Pedro Cerrano, a free-swinging slugger with problems laying off the breaking pitch. And there is no way the A’s would have taken a chance on a walk-on speedster who attempts to be a power hitter.

Similar to Moneyball, the Indians are led by a general manager, Charlie Donovan. But unlike Moneyball’s Beane, once the team is assembled Donovan slips into the background and becomes a minor character. The two characters do share an interesting trait, however, in that neither typically travels with the team.

Although the general managers are completely different, the managers of each team are quite similar. Both Indians skipper Lou Brown and A’s manager Art Howe are career baseball men who fight against the overarching philosophy of the ballclub with interesting and varying results. Whereas Brown struggles within the constraints of ownership until sparking the team against ownership, Howe, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Howe fights ownership in the beginning of the movie until ownership forces him in line where then, under the vision of the ownership philosophy, he is given credit for the team’s success by the media.

Finally, how they win and their respective on-the-field strategy is one of the biggest differences between the two movies. On the advice of his young assistant (the not-Paul DePodesta played by Jonah Hill), Billy Bean takes a stand on his players’ actions and disallows stealing bases and bunting. Compare that to the final batting scene by the Cleveland Indians in their climactic game against the New York Yankees. After Roger Dorn is hit by a pitch (a move Bean would probably advocate), pinch-runner Willie Mays Hayes is put in the game strictly to steal second base. While we are to assume Hayes was successful enough through the season to advocate a steal of second, what happens next is so anti-Moneyball it would have fried the circuits of DePodesta’s trusty PC.

Instead of swinging away and trying to drive home the run, injury-prone and slow-footed catcher Jake Taylor bunts. And not only bunts to advance the runner, but for a hit. And then Hayes takes the ultimate risk, rounds third, and heads for home. If we were to assume Hayes is the leadoff batter and Taylor is the number two hitter, then the Indians were to have their best hitter at the plate with two men on base. Hayes’s risk is incredibly un-A’s, I don’t even think the early season version of Art Howe would have approved it.

Although where Moneyball will rank in the pantheon of baseball movies has yet to be determined, there is no doubt it is one of the most different baseball movies ever. It’s reliance on realism and focus on the behind the scenes machinations makes it unique and an interesting comparison to Major League and other baseball cinematic favorites

Friday, October 14, 2011

Interview with Miami Minor League Baseball Historian Kurt Schweizer - Part 3

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

This Part 3 of our extensive interview with Miami-based baseball historian Kurt Schweizer. Part 1 and Part 2 are available here.

You can find more of Kurt’s efforts on his Original Miami Marlins Facebook page, his feature story on growing up on Miami baseball, and his photo essay of Miami Stadium.

Bus Leagues Baseball: Have you heard whether or not the Marlins will recognize any of the extensive history of Miami baseball or the history of the Orange Bowl in their new stadium? Do you think they should?

Kurt Schweizer: I think they absolutely should. There is obviously a tremendous amount of college and pro football history with the OB but there is also a bit of baseball history there. In 1956, the Miami Marlins played a game there in front of a sold out house and Satchel Paige was the Marlins starting pitcher. And the Caribbean League Championship Series was played there in 1990 and I attended one of those games. Also, Miami Stadium’s predecessor, Miami Field, was located in the Southwest corner of the OB parking lot. That stadium was before my time but I had some relatives whom attended games there. I’m not sure to what extent they will honor all of that history, but, so far, I understand they are building some kind of artistic monument piece that is made from the Orange Bowl’s main sign. So, while I think that is nice, it doesn’t make up for the fact that an important and large piece of Miami sports history was destroyed unnecessarily, in my view.

BLB: What are your feelings on the Marlins becoming the Miami Marlins?

KS: I have very mixed feelings about that and about them even being called the Marlins in the first place. On the one hand, it is nice as an honor to history, but on the other hand, it was a completely new team and completely separate from the two Minor League franchises that used the name at Miami Stadium, so I always thought they should have a completely new name. And, of course, I fully understood that they used “Florida” in the name to appeal to fans all over the state and not just in Miami. So, I understand why many of the Marlins’ fans in Broward, Palm Beach and other counties, are unhappy about the upcoming change to Miami Marlins. I don’t blame them. And to me, the Miami Marlins name will always refer to the team I grew up watching in the 80s and the eras prior to that. So, if it were up to me, I would give them a totally new name or would at least keep it as it stands currently, as the Florida Marlins. But, it is what it is. I will have to just get used to it.

BLB: What's next for your history projects?

KS: I’m always interested in doing or contributing to any projects related to the history of pro baseball and Spring Training in Miami, as well as other parts of Florida. The Miracle have asked me to be involved in their celebration of that franchise’s 20 year anniversary of moving to Fort Myers, so I am looking forward to that. Also, just today, in fact, a local historic preservation group contacted me about using some of my pictures and an article on their website. So, I am happy that there is still an interest out there.

BLB: You worked briefly in the front office of the Fort Myers Miracle. Why move with the franchise after it left Miami?

KS: Initially, I wasn’t at all happy that the franchise moved out of Miami, first to Hialeah, then to the West Miami area, on the campus of FIU and then to Pompano Beach for two years before finally settling in Ft Myers. I went to see them in each location and actually worked for them part time in Miami, Hialeah and FIU prior to Ft Myers, meeting some great people along the way, most notably Marlins GM Sonny Hirsch, who was a local Miami sports legend and worked in radio and TV and also in the Marlins/Orioles front office for about 30 years. I miss him and wish I could’ve worked for him much longer. But, after a while, I became more accepting and more comfortable with each of those moves because I understand all too well that, ultimately, the baseball business is just that—a business. They had to make those moves for business purposes and I can’t blame them for that. They have found great business success in Fort Myers, under the leadership of Mike Veeck and Marv Goldklang. And after a while, it just came to the point that the Miami area was not the right environment to sustain Minor League Baseball. So, I am happy that they have found a suitable home over there on the west coast of Florida. There were very few regular fans left in the franchise’s Miami fan base by the time the 80s came around. There were some great fans but just not enough of them. But, in Ft. Myers, there are a lot of very passionate baseball fans over there who love Minor League ball and give them the support that they just weren’t able to get enough of during their last several years in the Miami area. Plus I enjoyed working and living in Ft. Myers while I was with their front office. It would have been really nice for me to work full time in Miami Stadium, though, because it was my first love but I wouldn’t trade my experience in Ft. Myers for anything. I met a lot of great fans and worked with a lot of great people over there, as well, and I learned a lot from them, about the sports industry and about life.

BLB: Do you feel the Miracle have a responsibility to acknowledge the history of the franchise now that they are in Fort Myers?

KS: Yes, I think every pro sports franchise owes that to their fans and to themselves. Tradition and history is such a huge part of sports, but particularly to pro baseball, in my opinion. Generally, the Miracle have been very open to honoring their franchise’s rich and varied history. And I am always honored and happy to help them do that in whatever way I can.

We want to thank Kurt again for his time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interview with Miami Minor League Baseball Historian Kurt Schweizer - Part 2

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

This is Part 2 of our interview with Kurt Schweizer. You can find Part 1 here.

Bus Leagues Baseball: When did you start documenting the end of Miami Stadium?

KS: Well, I knew, going back to about the early-90s, that its days were really numbered. There was a fight to save it from demolition, that was led by a couple of the producers of the documentary and I was involved with that. But, that movement was not ultimately successful. So I was not surprised when I read in the Miami Herald that demolition had begun. That was in late May of 2001. I went there the next day and just started taking as many pictures as I could from every angle feasible. I got permission from the president of the demolition company to be on the property as long as I wore a hardhat and agreed to the assumption of risk for legal purposes, which I did. So, over the course of about the next two months after that, I went to the stadium about 3 or 4 days a week to document the demolition process. And even in the years prior to that, I got permission from the City of Miami Parks Department to take pictures of it several times and they were very cooperative with me on that.

BLB: When did you realize the end was near?

KS: The first real sign was the Marlins moving out of there, in the middle of the 1988 season. Then when the Orioles discontinued using it for Spring Training after the 1990 season, I knew it was very likely just a matter of time. The baseball team from the downtown campus of Miami Dade College still used it through 1996 and I even went to many of those games, but I knew that team, alone, would not be enough for the City to justify keeping the stadium open. So, it was bought, I believe, in about 1999 by a housing developer. And then the clock started to speed up a bit on its death watch. So when the demolition finally started to occur a couple years later, I was still sad but not a bit surprised.

BLB: How important was Miami Stadium to the people of the area? What made Miami Stadium so important to baseball history in general?

KS: It was important as it hosted not only Minor League ball from the time just after it opened in 1949 right up to 1988 but also Spring Training, from 1950 to 1990. It helped put Florida on the map for both of those things. And in Florida, especially, the two have generally been pretty intertwined. Plus that was and still is very important to the economy and tourism industry in the state. Miami Stadium was also used for many other events besides baseball, such as concerts and things of that nature, in addition to other sports. And from the purely historical perspective, there were countless Hall of Famers who played at Miami Stadium, either in a spring game and/or in a Minor League game. On top of that, it had an innovative architectural design, which included the grand cantilevered roof that it became famous for amongst architects and some photographers.

BLB: Miami seems to get a bad rap in the baseball world these days. Why do you think that is? Have the attitudes towards baseball in South Florida changed?

KS: Many people have wrestled with that question for a while. It’s not an easy question to answer. There are many variables. But, I would say that Miami has, for over 70 years now, been primarily a football town, for college and then also pro. And, of course, we are one of only a handful of metro areas to have the big four major sports, but football is usually where most of the local sports fans want to put their entertainment dollar. But, baseball has always, I believe, been the favorite local participatory sport, which doesn’t always translate into significant revenue for admission-charging teams. Another aspect, too, is that there are so many non-sports choices for people all over Florida from which to choose to spend their money. So, baseball, as a spectator sport, often gets left behind. But, the main way I have seen baseball in Florida flourishing is within Spring Training, which is, indeed, very closely tied to tourism. For the last 15 or so years that it was held there, though, attendance suffered during the spring at Miami Stadium, because the area that it was in was not perceived as being a safe place to go to anymore. I think that’s a relative thing, but I could see where people thought that.

BLB: You made a comment on a website once that said you will never set foot in the new Marlins stadium. Why not?

KS: That is a question that I am a bit hesitant to fully answer because I have several acquaintances and former classmates whom work for the Florida Marlins. I respect all of those people and I think they are very good at what they do and I don’t want to insult any of them in any way shape or form. Having said that, though, I know that a lot of people in South Florida were not pleased with the way their ownership group went about securing some of the funding for the new stadium and I can see why some people have some hard feelings towards the Marlins about that. Also, for me, it has a lot to do with the demolition of the Orange Bowl and the way all of that was handled. Of course, my main interest related to sports is baseball history. But I am also a huge fan of football and its history. I think the fact that the Orange Bowl was torn down without any attempt at retrofitting it or preserving any part of its structure is almost a crime. I will miss the Orange Bowl almost as much as Miami Stadium. And I know a lot of people share that sentiment and many even more so than myself, I’m sure. Another important aspect that I think the Marlins and the City overlooked is the traffic infrastructure issue around the new stadium. Anyone who has driven to that area during rush hour will understand what I’m referring to. Of course, it wasn’t a problem for the Dolphins and Hurricanes because the vast majority of their games were on weekends. But, I don’t think that area’s roads can properly support game-day traffic on business days during the afternoon rush, which, of course, is when most of the Marlins games will start. If I am proven wrong, so be it, but I certainly don’t want to try it, personally.

(Thanks to Kurt for this interview. Part 3 coming Friday!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with Miami Minor League Baseball Historian Kurt Schweizer - Part 1

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

In an effort to continue exploring the history and impact of Minor League Baseball in Florida, I've been corresponding with Kurt Schweizer, unofficial historian of minor league baseball in Miami, especially the original Miami Marlins. With the Florida Marlins renaming themselves the "Miami Marlins" and moving into a new stadium in 2012, I thought it would be great to talk with Kurt and get his opinions of baseball in South Florida, and also learn a lot about the sport's history in the area.

You can find more of Kurt's efforts on his Original Miami Marlins Facebook page, his feature story on growing up on Miami baseball, and his photo essay of Miami Stadium.

Bus Leagues Baseball: Who is Kurt Schweizer?

Kurt Schweizer: Wow. No one has really asked me that before. Interesting question. To put it simply, I am a Christian, son, grandson, boyfriend, nephew, cousin, cat owner, writer, friend, bandmate, lyricist, drummer, photographer, student, history buff and sports fan.

BLB: You've been called one of the foremost historians of Minor League Baseball in Miami. How did you originally get into minor league baseball?

KS: I take that as quite a compliment. But, it certainly didn’t happen overnight. I’m from and have lived in Miami for the vast majority of my life but we lived in Lakeland for a short time when I was a kid. So, my dad took me to my first game at Joker Marchant Stadium in August of 1979 when I had just turned eight years old. My dad had always been into baseball a good bit from a fairly young age, but I didn’t completely take to it right away. I liked it but I wasn’t bitten by the bug just yet. But, that game planted the seed. Then, when we moved back to Miami, he and I started going to Miami Orioles games pretty regularly in 1981. And that was it for me. I have been almost obsessed ever since. (And some people would say it isn’t actually almost.) We also were season ticket holders for the University of Miami Hurricanes baseball team for about 10 years, also starting in 1981. And I was one of the original season ticket holders of the Florida Marlins, but, somehow, it was the minors that really sucked me in and kept me.

BLB: When did you start getting into the history of the teams and the facilities you visited?

KS: I had always been interested in history, in general, ever since I was a little kid. The Miami Orioles played at Miami Stadium which was a very interesting place to watch a game. It had a very interesting unique design and really reeked of history even though it, having been built only 32 years prior to my first visit, wasn’t all that old, as we think of historic stadiums today, such as Fenway and Wrigley. But, it did already have an interesting resume, if you will, that included the Major League Orioles and Dodgers for Spring Training and the old AAA and Single A Miami Marlins plus the Miami Sun Sox in the minors, as well as the short lived Amigos of the ill-fated Inter-American League. And it didn’t take long for me to start trying to learn about all that from whatever books I could get my hands on and from some of the old timer fans there. But, right away, there was something about it that sucked me in. I don’t know exactly what it was but it had a really cool aura to it. It almost seemed like a haunted house. And it was so large and cavernous for a minor league stadium. Plus it held well over 10 thousand but typically wouldn’t have any more than a hundred or so, on average, per game, for the minor league season, so I would have fun just roaming around sometimes and just checking it all out. I have never seen another minor league stadium quite like it and I have been to many. It was kind of like a ghost town, all within the confines of a single building. And that’s something that’s pretty interesting to a nine-year-old boy…at least it was to me.

Then when I was a freshman in college, I was in an elective class called “Skills and Practices in Baseball” which was right up my alley. There was some fieldwork but also a lot of textbook and classroom work in the class. For the term project I did a report on the entire history of pro ball in Miami, up to that point. And that research was pretty specialized. And since it was 1990 and pre-internet, as we know it, I had to get about 90% of the information from old local newspapers on microfilm at the library. It was very time-consuming, but was worth it. It even further sparked my interest in the history side of everything. Then I used that research as the basis for some articles that got published by the Fort Myers Miracle (formerly known as the Miami Orioles, Miami Marlins and Miami Miracle), in their programs, starting in the 1991 edition. But that first program article was more of a summary of the different Miami franchises and the different names used and Major League affiliations by year. Then, in 1998, while I was working for them full-time, I wrote a franchise history story in prose form for that year’s Miracle program which got reprinted in several other editions, over the years, as well. And I ended up doing a lot of other stories for them, mainly relating to baseball history in some way.

BLB: What projects have you been involved with in regards to the history of Miami baseball?

KS: There have been several, to varying scopes, over the past 20 years or so. Most of them revolve around the articles that I have written relating to the history of the Miracle franchise and for the Twins spring programs. But I have also written a couple articles for other projects and websites. There was also a fairly large feature story about Miami Stadium that I was interviewed for in The Miami New Times in 1996, which served as a catalyst for the PBS movie about the stadium that I was involved with as an interviewee, consultant and contributing photographer. There have been a couple other projects that I have consulted on, including ones for the Florida Marlins and Major League Baseball and with a couple museums. And on top of that I am working on a doctoral dissertation revolving around Minor League Baseball and Spring Training in Florida, which I hope to one day turn into a book. I also have a page on facebook, relating to the history of the Miami Marlins and Minor League Baseball in Miami. I have some pictures I took, along with contributions from others, on that site and there are two fairly large galleries of my pics on two other websites.

BLB: What has been the reception to your projects?

KS: I would say it’s been pretty favorable. I haven’t really had people beating down my door, but I have gotten a lot of emails from fans and even a couple from players, relatives of players, and staff, from all over the country (and even one from the UK), telling me that they enjoy my articles and pictures. So, I always like that. I also was contacted by Roy Firestone, whom had been a batboy for the Orioles in Spring Training when he was a kid. That was really nice. We’ve yet to meet in person, but he was also in the same PBS film as myself. And I am always happy to be asked to do various projects and writings here and there.

(Part 2 and Part 3 coming later this week. Stay tuned!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who are Rays fans?

As a writer in the Tampa Bay Rays blogosphere, sometimes I feel like I am rowing against the current. Amid a deluge of negative articles bashing the Rays attendance, the stadium, and the metropolitan area I call home, it seems sometimes I'm the only writer who focuses on the positives of the experiences of going to a Rays game.

But now there are other Rays writers who are taking the side of the fan base. The fine gentlemen over at DRaysBay are looking to write about real fans and feature the fan base in future articles. To do so, they are first looking to know who is going to games and get some background data.

Please help the DRaysBay guys by filling out the short survey at the below link.


Friday, October 7, 2011

For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, Time Marches On

I’ve been mulling over how to eulogize the Rays this year. It’s tough to write about a team that was so inconsistent yet overachieved. One that was so baffling yet pulled out one of the greatest runs in baseball history. How can one accurately summarize the 2011 Rays?

Before the season if you would have asked me if the Rays would have won 90 games, I would have definitely taken the under. If you would have asked me how many games the American League Wild Card team would need to win, I would have said 93 or above. There were too many good teams in the AL. Maybe the fact that the Rays made it into the postseason with 91 wins is a testament to a growing parity borne of front offices catching up in decision making with some of the more traditionally successful franchises. Maybe it was because a few traditionally smart teams made some really bad decisions that equaled lower wins – looking at you, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Adam Dunn.

So were the Rays good, magical, or just plain lucky?

Maybe I follow the team too closely, but before September, I would have called them maddening. Of course, we all knew they weren’t going to lose 100 games, but six in a row to begin the season was frustrating. Then Manny, then Longo was shelved. Then Wade Davis forgot he was supposed to be an ace. And of course, BJ Upton, Kelly Shoppach, Reid Brignac, and the early season version of Dan Johnson.

Enough to bang my head against a cowbell.

As July rolled around, I tried to take solace in the fact that although this team wasn’t championship material, they weren’t bad at all. James Shields was a joy to watch. Kotchman was magical. Hellickson showed flashes of brilliance. And Sam Fuld flew over tall buildings. And although I was meeting more fans at the Trop and enjoying each and every trip, the team was kinda third-place boring.

(Is there any place in the standings more boring than third place? Baseball doesn’t give bronze medals – although they will soon. Third place is for teams who are rebuilding, stagnant, or overmatched. And it’s tough to brag about a third place team without having to look to the future. “We might be sorta good this year, but we’ll be something next year!” Sounds like a Marlins pre-season campaign.)

Then came September. Again, was it the Rays playing good or Boston completely collapsing? The Rays didn’t play great. There were no 10-game winning streaks, no sweeps (except of the aforementioned Red Sox), and no clubhouse rumors of Joe Maddon rallying the troops around a bikini-clad Don Zimmer cut-out a la Lou Brown in Major League.

But even without flash, pizzazz, or much notoriety, the Rays climbed within a whisker of the Wild Card in the final week of the season. And we all know we will be talking about the final day of the season for years.

Of course, if you only tuned in for Game 162 and the subsequent first round dismissal, you are probably disappointed. I hope you didn’t think the Rays were good enough to win the World Series based on talent alone. Luck might be the spawn of hard work and opportunity, but if you are counting on luck or Longoria in every game, you’re probably not going to beat the best teams in baseball consistently.

Would Manny Ramirez have helped? Possibly. Even a steroid-less Manny would have contributed more home runs than Reid Brignac. But having Manny all year would have meant Johnny Damon in left field. And that would have meant one of three things: either Desmond Jennings or BJ Upton would have been traded, or Desmond Jennings would have spent the whole year in Durham, bored.

Unfortunately, the 2011 Rays had their problems. They were below league average in on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS (slugging+OBP). Save for Boston, the teams who lead the league in those categories are still in the playoffs. Great pitching can win games, but hitting helps bail out the occasional struggle. Maybe this offseason they can address those needs, but we will spare the speculating for now.

So who were the 2011 Rays? They made it further than we thought they would, they were more exciting than we thought they would be, but they were no doubt flawed. And these flaws made for some maddening baseball. They were the final game of the regular season – terribly depressing at times and yet incredibly exciting enough to pull out wins by the skin of their teeth.

Before I close my personal book on the 2011 Rays however, I have to admit I am a bit jealous of some of the teams still in the playoffs. They have beautiful ballparks and incredibly vast crowds. When I see nearly 50,000 fans waving hankies or whatever they are given in support of their team in an outdoor ballpark with a gorgeous view of a downtown, I want that.

I know it might not happen today, tomorrow, or even in the next 10 years.

But if the 2011 Rays leave me with anything, it’s dreams. Dreams of Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings, and a collection of guys we are already familiar with celebrating a World Series victory in a retractable roof stadium in downtown Tampa (yeah, I said it) with 50,000 people from all over Florida dressed in blue screaming and banging cowbells to the heavens above.