Sunday, June 29, 2008

Red Sox, This Can't be Serious, Can It?

Before a highly anticipated playoff game between the Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers, a sportswriter was crowing about the blazers to Magic Johnson: Magic replied, "We know they're here." Its a different sport, but the Tampa Bay Rays don't need anyone announcing the whereabouts of the defending world champion, Boston Red Sox. On Monday night, they'll be anxious to crack the Rays brittle pennant hopes with Manny's big black bat. For much of the season, the Rays have been Boston's pigheaded fatal attraction. Tampa refuses to go away, and now the homely looking Rays have a chance to rip the heart right out of the Red Sox. Tampa's success, meanwhile, has been a boost to small market teams building through the draft rather than free agency. The Sox, nevertheless, are deep, experience, also talented; yet one has to wonder about their recent implosion: consider this: following a blow up with first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez shoved long time Red Sox travel attendant, Jack McCormick, for not having enough tickets for Ramirez's family. The Bosox , furthermore, lost two out of three to the resurgent Astros. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, couldn't win Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their pitching staff was so maligned, they had to beat the Rays with a hurler just called up from triple A. If Tampa is for real, they'll have to prove it against arguably the best team in baseball; but don't count out the Rays, there's something special about a team winning consistently with pitching and defense. At the halfway mark, both teams are separated by percentage points, and they'll be throwing their best pitchers. The Rays, James Shields, tossed a two hit shut out when the Rays swept Boston, however he was shellacked 7-1 after the Red Sox returned the favor last month. If Tampa Bay is for real, this will be the series to prove it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are the Rays Winning Ugly?

The big question circulating around the majors is when will the Rays fold? Major league baseball has almost reached the halfway mark, and Tampa Bay is still nipping at the heels of the defending world champion, Boston Red Sox. A near billion dollar franchise with a multi-million dollar payroll is being hunted by a team - that until this year - couldn't be sold at a yard sale. How have the Rays stayed in contention? Pitching also defense; but when will the roof cave in? It could be soon. In the American League East, the Bosox can be expected to play at a .600 clip for the rest of the season; the Yankees are warming up; meanwhile the pesky Orioles refuse to go away. The Rays, on the other hand, remind you of the words of former Texas manager, Doug Rader, who coined the phrase, "They winning ugly." That was Rader's way of discrediting the Chicago White Sox who won the division before being swept aside by the Baltimore Orioles. Considering Tampa's 43-wins, 7 have come during their last at bat. In one run games, they are 9-5. Only Baltimore, 10-2, Boston, 8-1, and Chicago 4-1 have a better winning percentage. The Rays, furthermore, have played fewer road games where they are four games under .500. Both the Red Sox and Yankees have played more games away than the Rays; the Yanks, however, are the only team with a winning road record. Away from Fenway, the Red Sox are one game under .500. When it comes to scoring runs, Tampa is in the middle of the pack; but their pitching, particularly the bullpen, is extremely stingy at home allowing a piddling 3.4 runs per game. When the Rays venture away from Tropicana Field, their young inexperience pitching staff surrenders a whopping 5.1 runs per game. So what's to be expected in the second half? At times, manager, Joe Maddon, looks like a genius by calling on his bullpen, but will they be overworked before the dog days of a pennant race? On the flip side, will Maddon's peculiar habit of resting his starters eventually catch up to him? Secondly in August, will the Rays' pallid bats fail when opposing pitchers ratchet up the heat? No one really knows how this team of juniors will respond to a grueling pennant race. In retrospect, the youthful Dodgers of Cey, Garvey, and Bill Russell, only needed to blow one division lead before vanquishing a combative Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds. The sprightly Oakland A's of Joe Rudi and swaggering Reggie Jackson surrendered one division title to the Minnesota Twins before maturing into a dynasty. The only difference between those clubs and Rays: no one said, "They winning ugly."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Raze the Trop?

After attending the Rays game last night, I finally decided to put in my own two cents on a new stadium in St. Petersburg, Fl. Like most people, I've seen my share of Rays games at the Trop, and the place didn't seem so bad; Yet, last night was different. I came away feeling the Houston Astrodome gave birth to a flop house.
I know baseball is a numbers game, but you would need a floor plan to figure out what happens when a ball hits the D-ring, an O-ring, a catwalk, a water heater, a furnace or whatever else that isn't tied down to the floor. I know the Trop supporters howl, "Well the place can't be all that bad: its air conditioned," and I reply, "So is an ice cream truck." For so long, I believed Tropicana Field looked like a good place to play baseball because the Rays were so bad; you couldn't imagine them playing in Childs Park, let alone a half way decent ball park. The Rays, nevertheless, have finally become a big league team, meanwhile its embarrassing to see them playing in what amounts to a dive. The roof, for example, resembles a hot air balloon; I've seen better carpets in hostels; and the luxury boxes, well lets just say we aint got nothing on the high school footballs stadiums in West Texas. The next time you go to Tropicana Field take a look at what they're calling a restaurant overlooking center field. Honestly, they would save us all a little shame if they just brought in a roach coach: catering truck for those of you who are not from California. When pitching sensation, David Price, arrives next year, the Rays could very easily win the American League pennant; but hosting the World Series at Tropicana Field would be akin to asking the Pope to preach in a storefront. Now, I'm sure the Holy Father would oblige, but I doubt he would come back.
With so many exciting players, it looks like the Rays have finally escaped the cellar; but to become true contenders, they'll have to raze that roof.

God bless you Tim Russert, you were God's gift to journalism: insightful, humble, honest, and full of integrity. Now that you're in heaven, I wonder who'll be your first guest on "Meet the Press."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Would You Vote For This Man?

Besides Barack Obama, another African American is running for a high profile public office; but this one made Magic Johnson look old, played Michael Jordan straight up, and ran circles around Isaiah Thomas. Back in the day, Kevin Johnson was doing all the things we see and rave about in New Orleans Hornets' guard, Chris Paul; but K.J. was quicker also better. Not only could he penetrate and dish, Johnson was also deadly from the perimeter. K.J, however, took his game to new heights by running for mayor of his hometown, Sacramento. In the beginning, the former All Star with a squeaky clean image was thought to be a shoe in until reporters started peering into his past. What they uncovered was nauseating. While in Phoenix, Johnson was accused of fondling a blossoming 16-year old girl. Of course an accusation by a female is something a high profile pro basketball player must live with. Beloved by the Phoenix community, however, K.J, denied the charge and the girl was dismissed as being unstable. Johnson, meanwhile, moved on by retiring in his hometown and establishing a charter school whereby seven of ten minority graduates attend college. Johnson continued his philanthropy by donating to homeless shelters, helping old ladies across the street, even assisting an occasional stranded motorist. Life was good until another young teenager alleged that Johnson was caressing her breast while embracing her. In Sacramento, Johnson's challenger incumbent Mayor, Heather Fargo, made sure these allegations were posted all over the blogosphere, newspapers, also radio. Sacramento police refused to press charges and Johnson said the girl's words were twisted by the teacher. The bad press has made K.J, the underdog in this month's election; yet, the confident unflappable 42-year old still knows how to get his shot don't be surprised if more young girls are looking up to K.J.