Friday, April 25, 2008

I could get used to the moon over the outfield

I glance skyward from my seat in the Tropicana Field press box and I see wires and catwalks and a roof.

Last night I saw blue skies with some clouds.

Last night I saw the moon rise behind left field at Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

On Wednesday I saw mist falling. A little weather OK, it happens when there is not a roof to protect us from the elements.

Now I like the Trop.

It lacks charm and, on most nights, fans. But it never rains and it’s never hot and sticky during the summer months and when the crowd nears 20,000 or better and the Rays are playing well it has as much excitement as any other big-league ballpark.

The Rays want a new stadium, a state-of-the-art, open-air 34,000-seat park on the St. Petersburg waterfront that will include a funky sail-like retractable roof.

Will it happen? Too early to tell.

Will it work? It’s ambitious, I’ll say that much.

Will I miss the comforts of the Trop? Absolutely.

But the sight of that orange moon and those light towers exploding out of the black night and the way the grass always seems to glow during a night baseball game, man, I can get use to all of that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So long Dan, we hardly knew ye

The locker that included a No. 26 jersey with the name “D. Johnson” on the back Tuesday afternoon, included a No. 26 jersey with the name “Gross” on the back Wednesday afternoon.

Elliot Johnson’s jersey contained his first initial Tuesday. It didn’t Wednesday.

Dan Johnson, we hardly knew ye.

If the Tampa Bay Rays ever hold an old timers day, will Dan Johnson be invited back? And if so, will be allowed to stay for the whole day or just the first hour?

Say this about the Dan Johnson Era, it was short, but it was successful.

The Rays never lost a game with Dan Johnson on the roster, making him the most successful player in team history.

Claimed off waivers last Friday, Johnson made it to Tropicana Field on Monday only to find the locker room empty and the batting cages locked. The team had already moved their operations to the Disney’s Wide World of Sports for their three-game, let’s find some fans in Central Florida series with Toronto.

Johnson, his wife and two kids headed to Lake Buena Vista and checked into the team hotel. He officially joined the Rays on Tuesday, met his new teammates and charmed the press with his story of paying for a time in an Oakland-area indoor batting cage while he waited to get picked up by a team after the Athletics designated him for assignment two weeks ago.

A left-handed hitting first baseman with some pop in his bat, Johnson watched the Rays beat the Jays from the bench.

On Wednesday, he was gone, designated for assignment to make room for Gabe Gross, whom the Rays acquired from Milwaukee in a trade Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson was insurance if Carlos Pena’s right hamstring injury was sever enough to land the first baseman on the disabled list. It was not.

And Gross was a player the Rays were trying to acquire since it was obvious Rocco Baldelli and Cliff Floyd were never going to fit into their plans for right field.
So, bye-bye D. Johnson.

Will he even put his time with the Rays on his resume?

Seems like a waste of a line on the back of a baseball card.

We do know this: D. Johnson will certainly not be wearing a Rays cap on his plaque should his career take off and he find himself elected to the hall of fame.

The Rays were good sports and allowed Johnson and his family to remain in Disney for a few days. That the least they can do after making him drag his family cross country for a job that didn’t exist.

So the Rays took on the Blue Jays on Wednesday night without D. Johnson on the bench and still won. And D. Johnson presumably took the family to the theme parks on the Rays dime where he surely learned that the wait to ride Pirates of the Caribbean lasted longer than his career with the Rays.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Longoria: 9 years, $44 million

Name a baseball player who has had a better week than Evan Longoria?

Major league debut.

First career home run.

Long-term mega contract.

Longoria concluded his first week in the big leagues by signing a nine-year contract that could be worth more than $44 million.

The first six years are guaranteed at $17.5 million.

The Rays hold a one-year option for 2014 and a two-year option for 2015 and 2016.

Not bad for a 22-year-old.
The Rays began talks with Longoria’s agent in spring training and agreed in principal April 11, which was the day Longoria received a text from one of the Rays informing him that Willy Aybar’s hamstring was becoming a problem.

Longoria was on a plane to Tampa that night and started Saturday night against Seattle.

One week later he's set financially for life.

Folks, that's your rookie of the month.

Rays to make "major announcement" today

The Tampa Bay Rays have a press conference scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday when vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman will make a “major announcement.”

The club is mum on the details, but they haven’t signed Barry Bonds. That I know.

It’s more likely they’ve signed someone to a long-term deal. Scott Kazmir, B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria are the likely candidates.

I’m guessing it’s Upton.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Who planted a curse at the Trop? Everyone.

You’ve heard about the Red Sox jersey buried in the cement at the new Yankee Stadium that is currently under construction to put a hex on the Bombers and how the Yankees dug it up, because, even though they don’t believe in such things, why bother, right?


Well, on Monday night Raymond, the Rays lovable blue mascot, walked past the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field, which was occupied by the Yankees. Raymond was dressed like a construction worker. It wore an orange vest and hardhat.

Raymond carried a shovel and pretended to burry a Carlos Pena jersey in front of the Yankees.

Oh, that Raymond.

Funny stuff.

Given the Rays sorry record at home (they entered Monday’s game 367-447 under the doom) it kind of makes you wonder if there are any jerseys buried under the visiting clubhouse under the Trop?

My guess … the Red Sox and Yankees and Mariners and Athletics and Angels and Indians and White Sox and Blue Jays and Reds and Braves and Cardinals and Pirates and Padres.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Remembering a guy who remembered Babe Ruth

Frank Walsh was a quiet man who covered the Tampa Bay Rays from a seat in the back row of the Tropicana Field press box for the Northeast Neighborhood News of St. Petersburg.

Rays manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t start of a post-game press conference until Frank made it down the two flights of stairs to the clubhouse. They two had a unique relationship, talking more about literature than pitch counts.

Frank loved baseball. His columns centered more on the quirks and poetry of the game than the wins and loses. Frank had a knack for seeing things that weren’t always on the surface.

His absence at the beginning of spring training didn’t go unnoticed and word soon made its way around Al Lang Field that Frank had cancer. The cancer took him March 27, and he has been missed ever since.

Frank lived to be 79 and was a link to St. Pete’s great baseball tradition.

He used to visit the area when he was a child and stayed at the same hotel as the New York Yankees. Frank remembered riding an elevator with Lou Gehrig and was surprised by Gehrig’s choice of clothes – a green shirt and blue slacks.

An unusual color pattern for the 1930s, Frank said.

He also told he best Babe Ruth story I ever heard.

Frank was sitting with some friends in a St. Pete bar a few years ago when one of his friends commented about a photo hanging on the wall of Ruth and a little boy.

“I wonder what ever happened to that kid,” Frank’s friend said.

“You’re drinking with him,” Frank replied.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Whoa and seven in Detroit

At this point I think the question is: How tall is the tallest building in Detroit and how long is the line of Tigers fans waiting to jump?

A lineup of all-stars, a $138 million payroll and an 0-7 start.

What’s wrong here?


The Tigers offseason spending spree had many predicting big things for the 2007 American League champs. Another trip to the World Series? The team’s first championship since 1984?

The lineup loaded with sluggers was thought to have enough power to produce 1,000 runs this season. Yet, the Tigers have scored just 15 through their first seven games. At this rate, they would have to extend the season to 477 games to reach that lofty goal.

The bullpen is a major problem. So is starter Dontrelle Willis, who walked seven and struck out none in his first start.

The key to winning, as we know, is pitching. Did the Tigers forget that when they beefed up the lineup but not the pen?

It’s early, yes. Way too early to write off any team, especially one loaded with talent.

But consider this: Only two teams that began the season 0-6 reached the playoffs – the 1974 Pirates and the 1995 Reds.

No team that opened 0-7 reached the postseason.

That doesn’t bode well for Detroit.

“We’re not playing good baseball, but we need to start,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told USA Today. “We didn't look like this all spring. We never anticipated starting like this. There were no indications.”

Manager Jim Leyland said he won’t tinker with the lineup or press the old panic button, and those are wise moves by a wise, old manager. It’s best to let this team play its way out of the slump and see how the next 155 games play out.

The 2003 Tigers lost their first nine games and an American League record 119.

This team won’t be that bad. It can’t.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Rays home opener a sellout

I think Tuesday’s home opener is the second-most anticipated in the Tampa Bay Rays 11-year history.

The first-ever game would be tops, but only because it was the first game in team history.

But Tuesday’s game against Seattle is anticipated because Rays fans and those who cover the team think the Rays actually have a chance to be competitive this year. I won’t say the team has turned the corner – they still need more pitching – but at least they are in the intersection with their turn signal on.

Anyway, Tuesday’s game sold out more than 24 hours before first pitch – something like 27 hours – which makes it the earliest a game has sold out since that first one back on March 31, 1998.

The crowd should be around 36,000 for the 7:10 p.m. start, which is what the Rays call a sellout these days since they’ve stopped selling a portion of seats near the top of the Tropicana Field.

Actually, there are a limited number of restricted view, handicap and single seats available that don’t count against a sellout.

Go to or call Ticketmaster at (727) 898-7297 if you want in.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Keep Crawford a part of the Rays future

How do you build a championship team? With all-stars like the ones the Rays have in left fielder Carl Crawford.

The team picked up his $8.25 option for 2009 on Tuesday.

In a statement released by the team Tuesday, Crawford said he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay for a long time.

During a conference call later that day, Rays vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman said the team wanted to keep Crawford around.

The team holds a $10 million option on C.C. for 2010 and here’s hoping they act on that, too.

Crawford spoke to reporters in Baltimore before Wednesday’s game and said what he’s been saying all along – that he sees the tide turning and he wants to be a Ray during the good times.

“I'd hate to leave right when the getting is good,” Crawford said. “You've been around for all the bad stuff you want to be around for the good part, too. And it looks like the good part is coming ahead, and you definitely want to be a part of that. So I hate to be out right when the team starts to win more games.''

That’s great to hear, because you know Crawford hears it when he plays at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

“Hey, C.C. When are you going to come and play here?”

That would seem tempting to a guy tired of playing in front of empty seats and finishing last every year. But the perception is the Rays have assembled their best team ever this season and they are about to make a break from their dismal past.

Time will tell.

Keeping C.C. in Rays blue is a good start.