Monday, June 18, 2007

10 Year Anniversary Series

That's right! I'm not dead yet! In 1998 Expansionites Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks joined the leagues and forced the Milwaukee Brewers to make for some stupid trivia.

1998 was also known as the year baseball gasped it's last breath (or will be after this whole steroids stuff blows "clear" - pun intended)

Manny Stiles will be covering the series in Phoenix Arizona starting tonight with Edwin Jackson trying to keep his season's record perfect (he's 0-8) against Livan Hernandez (consummate professional pitcher looking to buzz through a young lineup)...

It will also be my first opportunity to see the Rays on the Road... they just got in town from a win in Denver.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"I wasn't sure if they were saying 'boo' or 'Dukes"'

Look, I could go into all of the reasons why I haven't written an article on my Rays blog in over a month. Instead I will issue a generic statement with a certain percentage of contriticity...

I would like to explain away my inactions and actions over the past few weeks.

I am seriously contemplating things in my life. AS you may or may not know, I am currently unemployed. I wanted to take some time with my family and reflect over my thoughts of pursuing a writing career (not like this part-time writing, I've been doing). Well, some things fell out of what should have been a great period of my writing career.

I had some family members disown me (as well as threaten my life) over the fact that my brother Dru's name was mentioned on TV and on the internet - they still won't accept him, even though he's dead. Funny how brother in Tampa wants to have all the perks until his bigoted mind gets reminded why I was a Devil Rays blogger to begin with. All in all, I felt very stifled as a writer as my littler "Big Bro" with the Leo attitude issues had to hover over me. I stayed with him and his girlfriend in a one bedroom apartment (my 6'6" ass slept on the couch) and he drove me around as I didn't rent a car (NEVER again). So after arriving superearly on Day one and getting the scenic tour, I was late to the field twice of my final 3 days since he didn't want to get there too early. He also had a penchant for leaving as the games were ending (when most journalists get post game interviews). So, a great time tainted.

I will not deny that I in fact did not untry to forcibly not unwrite what was never unwritten. I also got my Online personna AND true self fully engaged in an internet flamewar with (randomly enough) a group of people that hate Jay Mariotti and only seek to incite wars of words and slander. Of course I am an idiot for arguing with anonymous haters over the internet about anything non-sports related but I always wanted a "hate club" of my own. They fully tried to embarass me and I thought it was funny for a bit until they brought my wife Jessica into it (and other personal stuff that was "magically" located with the power of the internet). Jes didn't care, and I don't really either since it's all true but I wanted to make an example out of some haters. They go out of their way to bash Jay Mariotti (whom I have no opinion of), when I think it takes less energy to change the station, page, website... These guys don't just drink haterade, they own stock in Preperation H(ate). Don't argue with noseeums on the web... got it - lesson learned. I got better things to do (or SHOULD) and no one is going to make the internet a better place unless they lead by example...

So I fully accept responsibility for whatever you think it is and just simply change the subject.

I am going to grab this writing demon inside of me and pin him to the seat in front of the keyboard over the next few days and get back into a rhythm... thanks for having me back from my "sabatical"!

Ooooh! How 'bout I sum it up like this: I went on a bender, then checked in at a posh rehab in Palm Springs... no, let's make it Sedona, AZ since I was actually there in the past month (haven't been to Palm Springs since February). Now I'm back (and everyone knows you're a no one in the "real world" until you've been to rehab - some say it takes several visits to become someone...)

WHAT is this about?

The Devil Rays are right on pace where they should be... The team is still young, pieces are interchanging and it's laying the foundation for the future core. BJ Upton continues to blossom as a stud of the future and Delmon Young has been steadily trudging through his rookie year and seems to be gearing to go on some tears during the warmer months of baseball.

I do have to admit, May is usually the boringest month of baseball. The season gears up during June when teams start to make moves. April is the cleansing, May is illusion, June is when we know what flavors we're working with. That being typed, isn't it FANTASTIC to see the Yankees in last place? I don't care that the Rays are tied for last... I see it like this, YOU are last Yankees, HA HA! When you spend 8 times as much as the team you're tied with, you lose!

If you trade A-Rod's contract to the Rays for nothing (doubling the Rays payroll), THEN the Yankees only have 3 1/2 times the team salary of the Rays...

The funny thing is, the Devil Rays are poised to make a move to pull away with their schedule lightening up while the Yankees have a couple rough patches coming up. I guess it all comes down to who gets their pitching staff in order first...

The other thing is Elijah Dukes. The marital issues and family history and everything else aside. I still maintain that he is an incredible baseball player that has a quality shot (no pun intended) at being a true star. But I fear that he may only see that happen in Tampa. I think if he gets in more trouble, the team will have to part ways. I don't think he pans out in another city (a la Gary Sheffield). I think his BEST chance is in Tampa/St Pete. He has to rise above the things he can't control (his past). No better place to do that than in the belly of the beast. So it all comes down to... how great does he want to be?

And if you don't think Elijah Dukes is good for Delmon Young and vice versa, you're crazy. What's best is how good both of those guys being around will help BJ Upton. The core elements are there. Crawford, Kazmir, the draft is coming, so another top-flight player is coming, there's arms in the minors on their way and the budget isn't draining the franchise. The direction they have chosen is wise. I'm actually more worried about how they maintain the dream once the winning occurs. How do they keep on top once the talent gets there? You do know that the Braves were VERY bad once upon a time...

I still maintain that patience is needed. But these ain't your older brother's (pun intended) Devil Rays...

Saturday, May 19, 2007


You thought I left, huh?

(Shakes head) Uh-uh... not... even... close

Manny Stiles is here to stay for the whole ride. Just had to take some time for family matters, then some personal matters and the Suns early interupted playoff run.

On top of that, things are getting a little re-arranged around here... watch out!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Join the LIVE running blog of tonight's game!

We're making blog history tonight on the 'Chair! ( - All Sports, All You)

Manny Stiles is at the stadium, in the press box. You're watching it at home on ESPN. Anyone can comment early, often. Just make semi-insightful comments please! (no emephing profanities, ya seeyessers)

This isn't a Stiles-only event, JOIN IN! This is for everyone... yes, even Yankee fans. See? We all enjoy.

New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Devil Rays, tonight on ESPN and

Damn I hate having to "act professional". As a credentialled media member, I can't root aloud from the press box. This is also the first time I'm seeing the Yankees in person and I'm NOT allowed to boo, either! Son of a... They've put up with my "yeahs", "oohs" and one raucous "You don't run on Delmon! You're toast" when Kelly Shoppach got gunned at the plate on Saturday.

But alas!!! I 'can' scream my head off on-line! And I will! Go Devil Rays! "Yankees Suck! Year 2000! Pinstripes are for *expletives*! All Yankees fans born after 1920 are bandwagon jumpers!" etc and so on!!! Woooo! (I feel better already)

click here to continue on and please join in with the discussion!!!

Stiles in Tampa - Day THREE

Geez, how do I put a positive spin on today? Well, I had fun... does THAT count?

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays wrapped up their 3 game series against the Cleveland Indians with a punch to the groin in the ninth inning. Ryan Garko hit a three-run homer in the top of the inning off of Brian Stokes to give the Indians the two run winning difference, 6-4 and a series victory.

Multiple Choice

Q. How can I possibly put a positive spin on today's game?


A. I could pretend that baseball games are really only 8 innings long and how the ninth inning is "just for fun"

B. I could cover my ears and rock back and forth while chanting "nah-na-na-na-na-na-na..." or click my heels and repeat "there's no place like home" over and over until my world went back to black and white...

C. I could go on and on about how Joe Maddon is just an all around fun guy to be around. About how accomodating and polite he is. About how he is a positive and uplifting being. About how I asked him if his antacid supply was running low after 6 straight games decided by two runs or less (seven after today's game), then realizing how stupid a question it was, hearing it come out of my mouth before he answered it... he's just too chill and amazingly patient to suffer at the hands of heartburn.

D. I could focus on how I think this franchise is NOTHING like you heard it is. To quote the motto on the predominant T-shirt worn in the lockerroom - "No regurgitation! Tell me what you think, not what you heard."

E. I could focus on the amazing efforts taken by the franchise to make the fans feel welcomed, entertained and how unbelievably kid friendly they are. About how today's "Superheroes Day" promotion gave away 7,500 kids size Rays hats (7,498 after I got two for 'Bubbas' and 'Pookie' Stiles) and how many thousands of them got to run the bases after the game (very entertaining and heart-touching, too - see inset on the right)

photo by Manny Stiles - If you can watch kids rounding second, looking to make the turn at third and score and it DOESN'T make you feel something, you're basically dead on the inside aren't you? (click on the photo to enlarge and look closer - that's not a stroller)

F. I could talk about all the things I forgot to mention about Saturday night's game (a win), like how the sizable crowd maintained a decent "Wave" for a little over 11 rotations around the stadium... Wait, is this a good thing? I'm not a fan of the "wave" per se (It's still better than the Tomahawk Chop) but I wish there was more variety in it... at the very least I want to see a super-fast wave just once)

G. I could talk about much fight the team has, how they never give up, how tight they are together, how they are growing together, how they are sharing the enthusiasm and diminishing the blame, how good they can be, how they are going to take games on their ability one night and how getting the growing pains out of the way is part of the process... sometimes you need to swim behind a rock in order to make it upstream. It seems like it's a step backward, but that's the only way you can get to move forward. You can tell they are headed toward bountiful waters.

H. I could talk about how the bullpen blowing games is actually helpful to the long-term well being of the team. Hey, the more the bullpen sucks, the more the need to "fix it" will make itself apparent and the more positive changes can occur.

I. I could focus on the absolutely dominating display put on by Rays starter James Shields. About his franchise record tying 12 K's (matching Dan Wheeler's 12 K's against Oakland on Sept 12, 1999)...About his control, about his command of three oitches and hitting his spots, about his change up hitting 72 miles and hour after his fastball was popping at 93-95, or about his winning ticket holders free Papa John's pizzas for getting at least 10 K's (hey, free is free). Shields broke through tonight. He is a clubhouse leader and he took responsibility tonight. He should have gotten two wins for tonight's efforts but he's gonna come back and try to be even better next outing.

J. I could say that Brian Stokes will look back on his career years from now with more "Ha ha! Gotchya!"s than "Ha ha, We got you!" and how he's gonna keep his head up and take the rookie lesson, learn from it and get better to benefit positively from it...

K. I could talk about how Travis Hafner got shut down today. How he actually looked pretty overmatched in his first two at bat's against Shields, K-ing twice. By the way, dude is a massive chunk of WOW. He is huge and thick to where you think, "Yes. Donkey strong, I get it." Or how Pronk felt the wrath of 6-6-6... Six straight games with a home run - Six straight games with a homer against the Devil Rays (in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, dating back to last year) - Six straight games with a home run at Tropicana Field. All of it came to a dull thud when he got pitched around for a walk in the ninth and finished with an 0-3 on the day.

M. I could talk about all of the great conversations I had today with some of the more nicely tattooed players. Afterall, I have many tattoos (and Manny tattoos, too!) I am a burgeoning tatoo artist (hey, I said burgeoning, not bludgeoning!) And however you feel about skin altering, self-mutilation, skin as canvas and "ink work", that's fine. I'm not hear to change people's preferences. I understand the art of it, I understand the personal meaning in them and I am fascinated hearing about other's artwork and the stories.

Jonny Gomes is not only one of the cooler dudes you'll come across (his locker is next to Brian Stokes', so I entertained him while Stokes got the vulturous onslaught/coal raking of the media throng), or just one of the more loved people in Western Florida (I can't even explain the crowd's "Gomes Special" but I thoroughly enjoy it) but the man has as many beautiful tattoos as I have run-on sentences... ok, no one has that many tattoos. He's had some very high quality work done. It was a general concensus in the clubhouse, or of the five or so dudes hanging out at that moment that Gomes' has the nicest collection.

Edwin Jackson has a pretty sweet and sizable inscribed cross on his back that rivals Gomes' back work in detail but had it all done straight through in one 5 1/2 hour session!!! Elijah Dukes has pretty sweet coverage. Among Delmon Young's tats are flames on his right arm and if you seen his throws (like his gundown of Kelly Shoppach on Saturday) you start to wonder if it's a tattoo or real flame! I'm also a big fan of Carl Crawford's classical Leo sign on his neck. If I didn't already have a Libra sign on my back, I'd have it as a neck tattoo.

There's tattoos everywhere you look in society today and it's represented well by this thin cross section of males ages 21-whatever and called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

But all the inked agree, there's more to come. Like anyone with one tattoo can tell you... wait; There is no one with just one tattoo, they're addictive like potato chips, you can't have just one!

N. I could tell you that C.C. is a fun guy to watch SportsCenter with. While the media throng was twiddling thumbs and talking about college football waiting for Coach Maddon's pregame interview session there wasn't much to do except watch one of the pretty TV's in the middle of the locker room. It was a Sunday day game after a night game, so the team takes swings in the cage but no on-field BP (otherwise they'd just be better off sleeping in the stadium to be there in time to get BP in). So normally we'd all be standing around on the field twiddling our thumbs and watching guys take their hacks (well, I do)...

Crawford's insightful color commentary on the highlights were damn near hernia-inducing - but his diatribe on guys getting airtime for homers in the bandbox NL stadiums like Cincy was classic. "Let us play in Cincinnati" he deadpanned. And I thought he was dead on. The Trop is a cavernous gape compared to Cincy and look at the Rays' offensive statistics sometime. His thoughts on tennis were almost worthy of paying an admission price.

Tomorrow: Manny throws "Tupac or Biggie" out there for conversation to see what happens!!! Although 10 bucks says (and I'm not a gambler...) Crawford turns it into a why H-town (that's his hometown Houston, y'all) is the better anyway... He says the Houston Rockets will win the NBA Finals and when I pointed to the logo on my T-Shirt (Phoenix Suns) he said "they're gonna get slowed down in the playoffs" - I got the can of worms out, opened it up about 1/4 and we all agreed no one from the East can possibly win.

Seriously though, C.C.'s got a good grasp on his stardom, he's a natural team leader (sarcasm alert - Hmmm... a Leo in a leadership role?) but is just plain as real as real is PLUS he's a pretty funny guy before games and after wins... (do the math)

O. I could explain how Ben Zobrist opened my mind to something I never even bothered to contemplate. I was talking with him about how some accounts of the game last night had Akinori Iwamura going into leftfield on the The_Pronk_Shift when it was really Zo. I swore it was him, so I wanted to confirm that I'm not COMPLETELY nuts. We got into talking about general things other than baseball (media vs. bloggers, how I quit my job to be a Stay at Home Dad to my kids, advatages and disadvantages of life in the minors and majors) and he brought up how he doesn't even have a TV and doesn't follow other sports because he's basically doing something baseball related for the majority of his time or travelling because of baseball. He just doesn't have time to live a liesurely life right now like a schlub like I can.

It struck me squarely in the key of "Duh!". A lot of these young bucks are trying to secure their rung on the ladder and climb it at the same time. They are working hard. They see what the big boys get and they want it too. They have crazy drive and consuming passion.

Great example: Other than when he's been dressing or eating, I don't think I've seen Delmon without a bat in his hand for more than 30 combined minutes in the past three days. B.J. Upton is a batting cage fixture. They are all pushing each other, trying to outwork each other and each other and it benefits everyone.

P. I could amazingly and courageously stupendify and terrifically enormalize the astonishing fun of a wonderful Superheroes Day. Ushers were dressed as comic book and science fiction superheros. Even Raymond, the whatever-the-hell-it-is-supposed-to-be mascot dressed up as Spider-Ray and saved the day for the Pepsi bottle when it was about to be beaten by the Aquafina bottle in the bottle races... (like the sausage race, but with giant Pepsi brand beverages) Raymond jumped out of nowhere to legwhip Aquafina and secure victory for Pepsi at the last minute. Sierra Mist never had a chance.

Q. I could rave about how Coach Joe Maddon was very quotable before the game today. He was rehashing Pronk's achievements from the two previous games and let us into his thought process. He said to his pitching staff before the series started "'Even if we walk him 12-14 times in the series, I don't care'" he paused, then reiterated to the throng "I don't care... he's that good."

He went on about Pronk. "Barry Bonds in the World Series in 2002 was the last guy I saw like 'that'..."

Maddon also clarified what he's looking for from his bullpen. He has certain roles he's trying to define and he wants guys to get work in particular situations. He also stated in his pre-game comments that "el assassanino" Al Reyes would be unavailable for the game because he'd pitched each of the 2 previous games.

After the game, the mood was somber, the quotes were shorter, the questions were fewer (it was a morgue in the locker room; afterall, it was a team that just got rochambeau'd) "It's something we've talked about ad nauseum... finishing games" shrugged Coach Maddon. "...we did the little things well, we just didn't finish"

He was extremely pleased with Shield's command and keeping his location down. And he complemented the toughness of his team once again and stressed the togetherness of the team "lose tough games, you lose them together. Win tough games, you win them together."

When asked if he considered using Reyes in the ninth he squashed the notion simply; "We had a plan. If you second guess yourself, you'll never know what to do."

Have I said how much I like this coach?

R. Does a Rick Sutcliffe sighting count as a positive spin? Hmmm... well how about Carlos Pena's Home Run in the sixth inning. The longball he hit won a lucky fan $1000.00 in a promotional contest.

S. The Bottom of the Eighth Inning. It was a fun inning. After Akinori Iwamura walked, he was taking a short lead when the pitcher snapped a pickoff throw. Aki wasn't far off the bag, so instead of stepping back or diving to the bag, he basically kept his right leg where it was and stepped on the bag with his left leg almost doing a pure split!

Aki is special. The crowd who was booing every pickoff throw chuckled when he did it. He just calmly cooly did a split to beat a pickoff. You don't see that every day.

T. Speaking of Aki. His footwork is amazing. Not just the split, but when he bats he moves around the box to where you want to frustratedly scream at him "you can't hit with your feet moving like that!". Obviously, he can. But it's HOW he does it. He gets himself into hitting position and gets the bat through the zone quite well. It's almost like he's Ichiro-lite. It's not something you can teach a person. He's a very physically gifted player.

You can see it in his fielding too. He's pretty fast, has swift yet... what's the word? hmm... graceful(?) feet, amazing balance and gets himself in great position to make sweet plays at the hot corner. I thought he had 3-4 plays tonight that could have been "Web Gems" easy. Plus he has a very accurate arm to boot. He's smooth. I even pulled up behind the grip of Asian reporters who follow him around like a Linus' dust cloud (from the comic strip Peanuts - don't know why I need to explain that, but I did) and even though I had no idea what was going on, it was easy to tell what they thought of him: 100% Aki Fever!

Another weird thing (to me, at least) After I wrote the "Aki Fever" article, an actual virus started spreading around the clubhouse (and around the media members, the clubhouse attendants and also touring the league) and guys were getting the Intestinal Revolution, etc. Aki got the virus himself earlier this week and had to be scratched for a start because of it. Sorry, dude!

U. More Bottom of the Eighth tales... Game was tied at 2 runs apiece. After Aki's pickoff split, Dioner Navarro came up to bat and tried to sacrifice bunt Iwamura to second. Except he didn't sac bunt him over. He laid a PERFECT bunt right down the 1st base foul line, not too far down the line and it was rolling towards foul territory and catcher Victor Martinez and 1st baseman Ryan Garko let it go as it appeared it was spinning foul. Then it spun to a stop right on the line. I mean RIGHT on the chalk. A thing of beauty.

Gomes pinch hit and the crowd gave him the 'Gomes Special' ("wuuuuuuh-wooooh" I have to find out more about that tomorrow), but he struck out. (He absolutely tries to CRUSH the ball with bat when he swings. Serious bat speed gets generated.)

B.J. got up and nearly decapitated the pitcher with a liner back through the middle getting a base knock and a ribbie. B.J. is a unique athletic talent and is going to be a monster as he fills out more with age, because he is sleek. Tools, tools, tools!

Then a strikeout/Wild Pitch, another Wild Pitch and some heady baserunning and Navarro scored to give the Rays a 4-2 lead into the ninth. They battled hard and I enjoyed it.

V. I could reiterate the Tampa Bay Lightning lost, getting knocked out of the playoffs and it didn't even make me fake a shrug. (Afterall, the Suns won.) It's just more attention in the Bay area that can now be directed at the Rays. A win-win situation! (sorry, Lightning fans... deal with it)

W. It could be considered a miracle. It only took me two games and 8.1 innings, but for the first time a dramatic play happened and I didn't make a peep. I sat there stoically and maintained a professional demeanor when I normally would have at least dropped a few dozen F-bomb infused malproprieties. (Guess when this happened)

X. What could and what will be. Here's a positive spin. The Rays get to take out their frustrations on the New York Yankees tomorrow! Don't forget to join in the running blog of the game (also on ESPN Monday Night baseball) that I'll be hosting (assuming all goes as planned) LIVE from the Dome Sweet Dome.

Y. Yes, I know there was no L in my list. Because I could be focusing on the positive stuff, remember.

Zzzzz... I could stop right here and say it's "All of the Above and MORE" in it's MORE THAN just a game!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stiles in Tampa - Day TWO

Smell that? Yeah, that's the smell of victory...

The Game Recap
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays snatched victory away from the clutches of the dastardly Cleveland Indians, 6-5 on "Superheroes Night" despite Pronk's attempt to smash the roof off Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, FL on Saturday evening. Travis Hafner absolutely crushed a first pitch offering in the 5th inning, driving in three runs and tying the game at 5 runs apiece. There is no doubt that it would still be in flight if hit in an open air stadium.

When Rays Manager was told after the game that the ball travelled an estimated 442 feet, his response was simply "that's only because something stopped it". The bomb rattled off the overhanging catwalk or else it may have unprettied the spanking new scorebard a bit. Only fred McGriff and Jason Giambi had hit that catwalk previously. OR maybe the people who estimate the distance of home runs forgot to carry the 1 and it was really 542 feet. It certainly seemed like it. Hafner has now hit a homer in each of his last six games, just two from the record of eight straight games held by three players (Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez).

See the catwalk up there on the left? That's what Pronk hit! Picture of the new scoreboard taken by Manny Stiles just minutes before the Monster HR

But on "Superheroes Night" it was the Rays who brought their super powers to the park to be the heroes this day.

After the Indians jumped to a 2-0 lead, "Fabulous" Ty Wigginton opened the Rays scoring in the second inning by going yard and went 3-4 on the day.

In the sixth inning and the score tied 5-5, Delmon Young picked himself up after an over-aggressive throwing error that allowed Kelly Shoppach to advance to third base when the next batter, Josh Barfield lined out to right and Shoppach tagged up. Young fired an absolute laser-guided missile to the plate to easily gun Shoppach out at the plate. Delmon also helped the cause with two hits, one an RBI double and two runs scored.

Carl Crawford came swooping in, full extension to save the day in the seventh inning on a terrific diving catch from (guess who?) Travis Hafner's thundering line drive for a huge out with the tying run already on base. It was also Carl crawford replica stolen base tonight as the first 12,000 fans recieved the miniature base commemorating his three AL Stolen Base crowns.

B.J. Upton flexed his super abilities in the sixth inning, ripping a single then stealing second and advancing to third on Shoppach's throwing error on the steal. He scored the winning run on a ground out to short by Ben Zobrist and it proved to be the difference.

The bullpen avoided the kryptonite and shut the door despite a tense moment in the eighth when reliever Juan Salas hit two consecutive batters with pitches. Courageous Shawn Camp got out of bases loaded situation and closed the door on the inning. That allowed "el assassanino", a.k.a. Al Reyes to earn his 6th Save on the season putting the evil doers down 1-2-3 in the ninth. (meaningless trivia - the other relievers in Rays history to record at least 5 saves in April went on to be All-Stars in that same season (Roberto Hernandez '99 and Lance Carter '03. See? Meaningless, just like I said)

Credit Manager Joe Maddon on some creative defensive adjustments in dealing with the torrid Hafner (Is this a Hafner or Devil Rays article?). Both games this series the Rays played Pronk seriously to pull, having Third Baseman Akinori Iwamura basically playing shortstop and all the other fielders to the right side of the infield. Maddon's superpower tonight came in the ninth inning in the form of running Shortstop Ben Zobrist to left field, Iwamura to behind second and Upton in short rightfield whilst shifting the outfield deep and to the right (see picture at right) to combat Hafner.

The Pronk shift; photo by Manny Stiles

It worked perfectly when he crushed a liner right to Crawford in deep left center. Apparently, the Joe Maddon suggested "higher league Hafner should be in" has four outfielders, not three!
At first when I looked up to see them shift I thought Aki forgot to run out onto the field! There was no one near third base. I couldn't help but think... "Jeez, push a bunt to third and you'd get at least a double, Pronk!"

After last night's tough loss, tonight's victory was a bit sweeter. Coach Maddon says his team is "like those little red rubber balls. These guys just keep bouncing back."

Guys were lounging, smiling and enjoying the post game spread and beverages; Hip-hop was pumping in the locker room (I was probably the only media thronger who enjoyed that, too). The guys seem tightknit. They seem to actually like each other and they came out and had fun tonight. I'm having a lot of fun too!

Go Devil Rays!

Manny's Wiles
-Paul Byrd stepped out of the time machine to start for the Indians. With his old timey windup (which warms the cochals of mine heart) and classic uniform stylings I could almost forgive him for bringing Lillith to his new show after he left Cheers for Seattle.
-Announced attendance was 22,805 (almost 10,000 more than Friday's game), so some people went home without their replica C.C. stolen base. Carl had himself a healthy supply to take home (to autograph for charitable causes I suppose). Even star MLBers get homework too!
-I said it before, I'll say it again - the stadium is really not a bad baseball stadium and the field surface is awesome. After seeing the new FieldTurf II on the field for himself, HOFer Eddie Murray seeked out a friend from their Orioles days, P.R. wunderkind Rick Vaughn and asked who he needed to contact to have it put on his yard. (I said the same thing when I first stepped on it, but then realized I'm not rich being currently unemployed and I'd end up with crabgrass either way...)
-Longest-ever tenured Umpire Bruce Froemming was behind the plate tonight. I think he plans on umping until he dies on the field. Five bucks says he gets a home plate instead of a headstone on his grave when it happens. And he'll still be better than a decent percentage of umpires.
-During Cleveland's BP, I was mulling about in front of the Rays dugout when a ball ricocheted off a protective screen and came to a rest at my feet. I picked it up and like a trained dog (or a guy with too many fundamental baseball drills wired into his DNA) threw it back toward the BP pitcher's ball bag. As I picked it up and tossed it, a guy hounding for autographs from the players was asking me for the ball like a nine year old. He was saddened by my habitual instinct and proclaimed "Come oooon, it's Cleve-land maaaan." It was pretty chuckleworthy.
-Media dining included Black Angus bacon mushroom burgers and "Sausage Hoagies" ('sausage and peppers sandwich' or 'Italian Sausage sandwich' to those who know the true definition of the term "hoagie") with steak fries and blueberry pie for dessert. And stadium hot dogs and popcorn in the press box. All washed down with non-diet soda. Did I mention my theory on why professional media members seem to average about 6-12 more inches of waistline than regular bloggers? If I don't go on a diet soon, I'll start getting paid to do this!
-To be fair, there IS a salad bar in the media dining area, but it did seem a little lonely over there.
-While eating in the media dining area, I sat near the TV and watched a tad of the Red Sox - Yankees game along with a total of ONE other person out of the 40 or so in the room. I get the feeling sometimes that many journalists aren't sports fans after all (or have just been completely deprogrammed from experiencing any level of enjoyment in life)
-Tonight's game was the Rays' 6th game in a row decide by two runs or less (I guess 'or less' means 'one').
-Jae Seo picked up the W which ended a personal 13-game losing streak.
-Kids, kids, kids... The youngest team in MLB is as kid friendly as any organization can possibly be. (Maybe it's just me missing my Bubbas and Pookie.) The players accomodate the youngsters with signatures and baseballs galore. The Starters ran out on the field for the National Anthem and each had a kid run out with them. Kids sang Take me out to the ballgame and I think every kid in the stadium was on the jumbotron at least twice. After afternoon games, they let kids run the bases. They got the right idea because the future of baseball is at risk unless kids learn and love the game.
-More needless trivia/curious tidbits courtesy of the pregame media notes:
--Only 11 players in MLB history have had more hits in their first 46 games than Delmon Young (59). Rocco Baldelli (65) is one of them.
--Delmon Young and Carl Crawford made their MLB debuts at the exact same age.
--Seven years ago today, Troy Glaus, Mo Vaughn and Tim Salmon homered in the 4th inning AND did it again in the 9th inning. It was the first time three hitters homered in the same inning twice in one game.. oh yeah, against the Rays.
--Coming into tonight's game, #9 hitters were batting .373 against the Rays, highest of any spot in the order.
--The Rays are on pace (273) to tally the most steal attempts since the '96 Royals (280)
-Manny Stiles is making a TV appearance about how all of this charity blogging business came together along with Matt Silverman for a local station on Monday before the game. They failed to heed my "I have a face made for radio" advice.

A little side project I took upon myself
I "interviewed" about a dozen and a half people who are 'on the clock' during the games - R.A.Y.S. (Ready At Your Service) employees, Elevator jockeys, door attendants, security folk, credential checkers, etc. I asked them where they were from (since like Arizona, everyone in Florida is from somewhere else), how long they've been with the organization, who their favorite Ray player is and when they think a World Series would come to Tampa Bay.

Where they are from originally
A few are from New York, 3 people from SouthEast PA (like myself), Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan and one from Minnesota. (Apparently east coasters go to Florida to live, while midwest and west coasters go to Arizona)

Years of service ranged from 2 months to one gentleman who voted FOR the stadium and worked at the dome since it's opening (years before the Rays were concieved) and he even was one of 25 finalists in the "Name the Dome" contest - he suggested "Sun Dome"

Favorite Rays
-Ty Wigginton was the high vote getter with one voter swayed because he delivered his second child, Cannon when his wife went into sudden labor (He IS a superhero!)
-Other favorites - the usual suspects, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir but some of the long-timers listed others such as Wade Boggs and Travis Lee (apparently he is really nice?).
-My favorite media credential checker, Dan likes all of the Rays, but chose Rocco as his favorite and stated Willie Mays as his favorite All-Time player because he grew up a Giants fan in the Bronx who would spend the nickel to take the subway to the Polo Grounds. He even played stickball in the street with the 'Sey Hey Kid' when he was a kid himself. But he summed it up when he said Ted Williams was the greatest player he ever saw play.
-One employee, Chris who started in '98 said it was unfair to pick just one but then said Toby Hall was the nicest person she ever met. I asked her if Hall was nicer than Fred McGriff and she admitted "No one else on earth is as nice as Fred".
-I concurred...

Crime Dog
This user demands Fred McGriff be voted into the Hall of Fame.

When will the World Series come to Tampa Bay?
-Most answered '08 or '09, one said '07 (is he reading my articles too intently?), most agreed this is the year to get the growing pains out of the way. One answered "maybe 2012" and believe it or not, only one person answered "you're kidding, right?", but he's really a Tigers fan.
-All in all, the longtimers are thrilled and optimistic about the direction of the franchise. They've seen a lot of positive changes in the past year and a half since Stu Sternberg took over as owner.

It really IS more than just a game.

Coming Up
The Cleveland series wraps up tomorrow with a early afternoon contest pitting Jamie Shields against Jake Westbrook.

Don't forget! Monday vs. the New York Yankees, a live running game blog on hosted by Manny Stiles from the game!!! You can watch from home on ESPN. Join in and comment away!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Stiles in Tampa - Day ONE

Well, it has been quite a freeking long day. In fact, it's been two long days. I took a red eye flight out of Phoenix and lost three hours, got basically zero sleep (even though I tried to beer and margarita myself into a slumber for the flight - to NO avail) and got into Tampa at 8:30 this morning... jet lagged and hungover. It's almost midnight now and I didn't even have any caffeine today! needless to say I am buzzing off my first day at the Trop.

Arriving at the stadium
I arrived at Tropicana Field around 3:30pm (10 minutes before the media gates opened) for the first game of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Cleveland Indians series (gametime 7:10). Me and my Unnamed Local Source (brother that lives in Tampa) met up with the Rays' Public Relations wizard Rick Vaughn. If you didn't know, the Rays don't charge for parking. It's FREE!

"R.V." (as he's affectionately known - although I'm sure he's received a nauseating amount of "Wild Thing" references over the years) took me and U.L.S. (Unnamed Local Source) on the stadium tour; in and out, up and down, and basically every new feature, amenity and upgrade. We started out in the locker room. It was still early so only a handful of players were mulling around (hey, there's Aki! Look, it's Kaz! There's my boy Delmon Young!) And... so on! More so, it was "there's Marc Lancaster" or "hey, it's Marc Topkin" (the local Rays beat writers that did interviews with me last month)

I wasn't nervous or star struck by the players. After all, the players look SO young (maybe I'm just getting old) and many of the guys are not as big as I thought they'd be (maybe I'm just getting fat). I was a little giddy when I saw Don Zimmer! Mostly, I avoided the urge to pester every/anyone within shouting distance and just enjoyed the initial experience and took it in.

Inside Tropicana Field
Let me tell you some wise advice. Don't listen to anyone who says the Trop is a crappy stadium. It's not the Taj Mahal and it just looks a little weird with the tilted roof, but the stadium (even though it's a neccessarily evil dome) was better than several I have been to... and that was just my initial reaction.

R.V. showed myself and U.L.S. all of the new additions like the kids play zones and the (FREE) kids video game lounge (they even had RBI Baseball on huge plasma screens - very sweet). There is a baseball trivia game show set that you can go up against other competitors in a battle of useless knowledge (with real buzzers and scorekeeping podiums). You can go to a game, get a custom bat made, have baseball cards of yourself printed up and then go pet the dozen and a half or so rays swimming in the Ray Tank in centerfield (WAY cooler than the pool at Chase Field that no one uses). Yes, real, live actual, water-breathing fish, related to sharks and known as "rays" (No Mantas, a.k.a. "devil ray" though, just 'little' ones) You can even pet them!

Did I mention the Ted Williams' Hitters Hall of Fame? Yeah, it's been there for a couple of years, but it was expanded to over 10,000 square feet this past offseason (from under 3,000 sq ft). I didn't get to go in today, but I'll see it for sure (Is Pete Rose anywhere in there?). Oh yeah, it's free too.

The Tampa area has a long history in baseball. Long a Spring training site for MLB teams, there has also been several "professional" teams here through the decades as well; there is certainly a rich heritage of baseball in Western Florida. A wing of the concourse is covered in murals depicting the historical greats of the area (a 30ft painting of Joe D and Marilyn, for instance).

The Rays have embraced the history of the area (even if it IS Yankee-drenched), they have appealed to the younger fans and it seems like their promotions department has a staff of hundreds of people. The Rays have connections with seemingly everything in the area.

Every section of the stadium has it's own unique theme and feel. They even have a street stickball area made to look like your playing on the streets of new York (graffiti and all!) Another area is painted to resemble the flavor of a local historical Spanish neighborhood. There are tons of shops and a great array of food and beverages.

About the only complaint I have: The bathrooms are clean and servicable.. they aren't knock your socks off, but they work. There is an area on the concourse where three bathrooms are all within sight of each other but they're all women's bathrooms, and the Men's bathrooms are sparsely scattered enough, so that was a tad confusing (of course, with my media creds, I didn't use the public bathroom anyway)

All in all, the stadium is better than everyone says (which is exactly what I expected)

Batting Practice
So after the grand tour and intros, we ventured down to the field. They installed a new surface called FieldTurf II and it is very nice. I wish I had my whole yard covered in it.

The Rays players were taking BP and fielding fungoes and we just stood there at the dugout and watched along with the media and other onlookers.

Hey, there's Don Zimmer, there's Fred McGriff, who is that guy? Is that? It is! Carl Everett was there too, hanging with the Rays players and looking well over his old playing weight. No Jose Canseco sightings though... (darn sarcasm)

Then as BP was wrapping up, Coach Joe Maddon held his pre-game "press session" (I don't know the 'official name' of the event) and answered questions from the media members. They were grilling him about how he uses his pitchers, why he chose the lineup he did, blah blah blah, all the while crowding around him like too many piglets fighting to suck on the sow's last open teet, jamming recorders and microphones in his face (to see it happen was a tad disturbing).

I played along and followed the flock, pretending I knew what I was doing. The writers slowly got their sound bites and quotes and filtered away to the media chow hall (more on that later). Then it was just me left and Coach Maddon. So I introduced myself, you knw... that "charity blogger guy" etc... THEN, I pulled the ole' "those guys asked all the questions I wanted to ask" joke and then slammed him with the heavy hitter...

"so... um... What did you do on your day off yesterday?"

Yup, I went right for it. Damn that Manny Stiles! Asking those gritty, gutcheck questions like a heartless sniper. Coach said he "took his girlfriend's parents to the airport in the morning, rode his bike some, read a book then was in and out of naptime while West Side Story was on TV." He likes to keep his mind and body in shape - for his "young girlfriend"...

Yep, Manny goes the extra mile for this kind of insight so you can enjoy it too.

Then we chatted about nothing particular, batting pactice wrapped up and we headed up to the press box.

The Press Box
Pretty damned good seats, those press boxes. Straight behind home, up just enough to see it all. There's a counter full of stat sheets galore, media notes and more mass reproduced statistical information than you could ever possibly imagine - Did you know, that Cesar Cedeno is the only player in MLB history to have more combined HRs and SBs before age 25 than Carl Crawford's 203 combined Hrs and SBs? And so on...

Then there's the food. Get proper credentials and $6, go to the pregame spread and you can eat all you want! I had the beer-battered cod and chicken marsala (one of my favorites!) along with heaping portions of vegetable based side dishes. Honestly, it wasn't bad at all. I enjoyed it thoroughly! Of course, I am also a guy that enjoys TV dinners, institutional food and freeze dried survival foods from the bomb shelter era (basically any food that isn't completely rotten and/or feces covered)

I saw my old buddy Crime Dog in the food trough and told him "I don't want to make you feel old, but I met you at a baseball card show in 1988" etc. and so forth. We yapped and let me tell you; if there's a nicer, more down to earth person than Fred McGriff... no, it's just not possible. McGriff is always smiling and is still just as chill as he was almost 20 years ago (I AM getting old). There's a whole article on McGriff coming sometime this season. Enough segue, back to the previous train of thought:

You know the old line about sports writers all being pot-bellied, balding or messily coifed and having mustard stains on all of their shirts?

Not completely true.

They are also miserable and hate their lives as well... or at least it seemed that way to me.

So in the press box, there are writers and correspondants, about a half dozen Japanese reporters, a guy sitting next to me on the left with possibly the worst breath ever and my douche bag U.L.S on my right wearing a Rays hat (with a Joe Maddon signature he acquired in Spring training). Double D'oh! Showing team preference is a no-no (I doubt some writers even like the team they cover anyway).

In the press box, not only does no one cheer, root or express any emotion; they barely even talk with each other. It's like a library for the noiseless overlooking of a sporting arena. It's just so unnatural to watch a baseball game and not become involved with it (for me at least) Of course, I broke the "unwritten rules" several times with a uncontrolled yelp of a "yeah!" or a pleasingly muttered "nice..." and I even went into my bag of magik phrases and peppered a few "come on!"s in there too. They might have to detach my vocal chords and supress my willingness to enjoy myself before tomorrow night's game!

But I do have to say, the Rays take care of their press contingency pretty well. Not that I have much to compare it to; I was comfortable, I was given assistance at every ponderment (one of the management's mottos - R.A.Y.S. - Ready At Your Service) and I had access to enough statistical information that I can understand where the creativity goes in the journalism game. They practically do the 'work' for you, you just gotta mad-lib and paint by number it all together and WHAMMO, a column before tomorrow's deadline, it seems...

Don't get me wrong. I'm not ripping the guys (and the three or so female journalists), it's just VERY easy to stereotypicalize baseball writers. Clearly there are some who stand out above the others and it's not hard to tell who is good and who is run of the mill... yes, there are some good reporters. They ask questions that require answers deeper than "Duh!"

Then again, maybe 'the grass is greener', who am I kidding? Some of them are just worn down by the glorious past nine years that they can't enjoy the here and now turning into a bright future.

The Actual Game
Myself and U.L.S. (who oddly enough was a self-proclaimed die-hard Yankee fan until last month) sat in the press box and watched the game.

It was a good game. C.C. Sabathia was masterful. B.J. Upton mashed a solo shot off him to deep center in the third inning, but he was otherwise handling things well. He was changing speeds and painting the black but the Rays chipped away and chipped away and finally got to him in the 7th when Delmon Young stole third and Victor Martinez threw the ball into leftfield allowing Young to tie the score at 3-3. Even though there was a paying crowd just under 13,400 and half of them left by the 7th inning stretch, it was actually LOUD when the Rays were threatening. Early in the game I was unimpressed by the Friday night crowd, but when th game got exciting, they showed up big time.

Then after the end of the 8th, Mrs. Stiles called to tell me the score was tied (I had a sneaking suspicion it was, being AT the game and all) and asked "how are my boys doing?"... OK, I'll say it... it's all her fault! (They're not pinning this loss on the supposed "Manny Stiles Curse")

Here's the box score.
The Indians won on a smash hit from Pronk in the top of the 9th inning. Yeah, he had a nice 3-3, HR, 3 rbi with 2 walks kind of game. If you didn't know already... Hafner is what they call very good. Coach Madden said in his postgame remarks that he hopes "Hafner gets called up to the higher league that he belongs in" before tomorrow's game. I agreed.

So the game was over, us media folk sauntered down to the lockerroom and enjoyed the Coach Maddon post-game questioning (lasted all of maybe 4 questions) then again, the other media guys vanished and it was me and Coach again. This time I asked him some other innocuous questions as well as some good ones. We got into talking about how he is a Cardinals fan... yeah Arizona Cardinals fan! He's been a Cardinals fan since the early 60's (he played a little QB in college at Lafayette) and still is even though they moved to the desert and sucked mightily for 19 of th last 20 seasons... I'm begining to like Joe more and more...

Well, I figured I already wasted enough of the man's precious time and we waited in the clubhouse. A few reporters were asking spot questions to whoever had their junk covered and I complimented Elijah Dukes on his prolific tattoo work. He says he wants to get more (I'm familiar with that sentiment). I got the feeling he didn't enjoy not playing tonight, so I stopped wasting his precious time as well. Yes, he is a thick dude.

Delmon Young was hard at work in the batting cage just about as soon as the game ended. Coach Maddon said Delmon "has his head in the game at every moment" and from what I saw of him, he is a pretty upbeat, positive guy. I stand by my original assessment.

It was pretty sad hanging in the clubhouse after a tough loss. So I told R.V. we'd see him tomorrow and we left.

I never did meet up with my services procurer, Team President Matt Silverman. I guess he just has more important things to do... go figure!

All in all, tonight was fun... even with the tough loss. Tomorrow, I'm working! Expect a better, meatier post tomorrow night! I'm going to bed (and I'm still living on MST, not EDT)...

And don't forget! Monday, Monday, Monday! ONLY on !!!

Manny Stiles' running blog of the Rays-Yankees game (on ESPN) during 10th Anniversary Cowbell giveaway night - first 10,000 in get a cowbell - I can't wait to hear it!

MORE cowbell than ever!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who is YOUR favorite Devil Ray?

Vote once per day for EACH of your favorite Devil Rays!
The old, fallable poll is history, we start over with a more appropriate (Read:Miceli-free) poll.

But first here's the results through Spring Training!

Clearly, Carl Crawford is a fan favorite!

Rocco Baldelli was second favorite.

Then in third was surprise, surprise...
Jamie Shields!

Tied for fourth most voted for Scott Kazmir, Jonny Gomes and Elijah Dukes.

Greg Norton and Josh Paul finished in a tie for last.

So here's the new poll, vote ONCE per day, but vote for EACH player you like!!!

Which Devil Rays players do you like?
Carl Crawford
Scott Kazmir
Rocco Baldelli
Jonny Gomes
James Shields
Elijah Dukes
Delmon Young
Ty Wigginton
Dioner Navarro
B.J. Upton
Jae Seo
Ben Zobrist
Edwin Jackson
Akinori Iwamura
Casey Fossum
Shawn Camp
Josh Paul
Brendan Harris
Carlos Pena
Ruddy Lugo
Free polls from

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Shameless Plug for

Sometime later this year, I will complete a short film/mockumentary called ''Spelloids: A webbing pile of blog''

But already completed is the unneccessary hype:

Here is the 30 second promo:

Here is the FULL LENGTH (lightly controversial) promo:

Enjoy Spelloids:A webbing pile of blog (coming later 2007)

(weak disclaimer: views expressed in this film have nothing to do with anything credible, nor the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Baseball Club or MLB)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Beware of Aki Fever! You might get it too!

What can I say? A lot of things, I guess. A lot of things that get me in trouble it seems and even more things that fall upon no ears more often than deaf ears, but let it be known - Manny Stiles has a case of Aki Fever.

Aki Fever is catching all over. It started in Japan and came to the United States via import into the Tampa, Florida area this winter. Some cases of Aki Fever may be worse than mine, but not many. It starts out slowly; almost like a subtle intrigue, then it grows with careful nurture through a petri dish of passive attention and lessened expectations. Then before you know it.... WHAM! You've got Aki Fever and you're down for the count just like me!

What is it about Akinori Iwamura? Is it his similar, but a bit smoother to watch Ichiro-like plate approach? Is it his vacuum-like fielding and laser-scoped rifle throwing arm? Is it the cooler-than-an-Eskimo's-toilet-seat-way he wears his extraneous gear? Is it the Alligator skin webbing in his glove? (how cool is THAT in Florida?). Maybe it's his on-line diary (it is sooo much cooler when you don't call it a blog, eh?) or how he came to the U.S. with virtually no fanfare (especially considering the slobbering upon the media gave the other AL EAST imports from the Far East, Dice-K and Kei Igawa. Did I state that Yankees and Red Sox players all suck and are jerks? There's another reason...)

Who cares why? I've got Aki Fever, Doctor! I think I've fallen and I don't want to get up!

Maybe it's that he just turned 28 in February (an Aquarius!) and should be smack dab in the front end of the prime of his career. Maybe it's because he was the first Devil Ray to accumulate 10 hits on the season. Or that he leads the team in runs scored. Or that he has been not just flawless in the field, but spectacular!

Maybe it's his .500 batting average through the first 6 games of his MLB career and subsequent 6 game hitting streak? (the hottest start of ANY Japanese rookie ever in the Majors) Or that he's the first Japanese corner infielder to break in MLB? Or his 1.300 OPS? Or team lead in stolen bases (OK, tied with 2 other guys with 2 SBs). To see the guy play is like a breath of fresh air. He seems so smooth, so fluid, so sure. I almost WANT to see balls hit at him so I can watch it get replayed on Web Gems later.

And it's not just his game play that's refreshing. He truly seems to be a genuinely likable dude. He comes off as a pretty down to earth dude for a 5-time Japanese League All Star. He has a cool confidence that everyone could use a little of...

Then again, I do have a tender, warm and tingly spot deep in the icky cochals of my heart for guys who wear #1 on their jerseys...

The scouting reports before the season were pretty reserved, but a few reports did state to the effect that "the Devil Rays got a steal" and "his game could translate better to the American game than most players from Japan". Here was a +.300 hitter with 20+ HR power and a 6 time Gold Glove fielder in Japan, we knew that much, but in Spring Training.... BOY did he get off to an icy start in Spring Training.

But you know what? WHY wouldn't he? He's a guy who traveled (literally) half-way around the world, disrupted his family, his home, basically his entire world to play baseball in the Major Leagues. But he didn't disrupt his essence. He had to find a new place to live, learn his way around, work with a new language, new customs and new social structures. He had all new teammates, all new pitchers to face and a pretty tough Spring Training field in which to hit. And it took a while for him to get rolling, but... uhh... he's rolling!

Now, do I think he's gonna be a 5 -time All Star here in the States? Probably not, third base in the AL isn't what it used to be (remember, Scott Brosius was an All-Star third baseman once), not with A-Rod, Eric Chavez, Melvin Mora, Adrian Beltre and Troy Glaus patrolling the hot corner with youngsters Alex Gordon and Andy Marte blossoming soon as well… it’s a tough spot to shine over the rest. But so far, so good! And maybe he can start collecting the [[Gold GloveShiny Leathers] over here in the States, too.

Coming into the season, I figured the Rays signed Iwamura simply to keep third warm for the eventual call-up of stellar prospect Evan Longoria. The posting fee was peanuts ($4.5 million) compared to Dice K and Igawa's and his contract was really reasonable (3 years, $7.7mil with a team option for a fourth year at $4.25mil). Now we got a logjam at third as well as the outfield! It's not a bad problem to have too much talent to go around. I tell you as a Devil Rays fan, it's getting brighter every day! I know the Devil Ray lifers are excited and enjoying this season more than most. (I guess I can take all the credit?)

Here's an excerpt from Aki's online diary this week, talking about scoring the winning run in the home opener vs. the Toronto Blue Jays...

"...I scored the winning run. We were celebrating so excitedly that my teammates fell on top of me. I was the smallest and I was on the bottom of the pile. It was awesome. Then, when I was talking with the American press in the clubhouse after the game, one of my teammates, James Shields, shoved a shaving cream pie in my face. It is ritual that the Devil Rays players like to do after a win."

(Yeah, welcome to the show, rookie!)

"What a great way to end the evening and my first game at Tropicana Field."

How can I not have Aki Fever when he is just thrilled to have a great way to end an evening? He has already exceded my expectations (granted, my expectations were skewed by hype of the likes of Shinjo and Kaz Matsui - maybe I should pay more attention) just by being such a cool cat and now I feel unbelievable safe in his cat-like reflexes at third, his basepath prowess and sweet, sweet bat control skills.

Excuse me now, I'm headed out for some sushi! Aki Fever!!! Wooo!
Go Devil Rays!
Personal Anecdote time ("X" out if you hate stories about people's kids):

Almost a month ago, I was paging through online reports and I was reading about Iwamura and my 3 year old daughter saw a picture and asked "Who is that?" like she always does. I said "Akinori Iwamura" about as fast as I could, because she always tries to repeat their names and I like to tease her at every opportunity. She tried but flubbed it bad, so I said it again and again. It came out jibberish. So finally I reduced it to "Aki" and she went around dancing and chanting "Aki, Aki, Aki". Of course, as Daddy it was very cute to me... (though it could be something from the TV show Dora the Explorer she was doing for all I know)

Last night as I followed the game against the Texas Rangers online, my daughter was in the next room playing. In the second inning, Aki singled in two runs and I let out a "Yeah, Iwamura! That's it!" and my little girl came running into the room dancing and chanting "Aki, Aki, Aki" like she did a couple weeks ago (and I didn't even say his first name)! Sure she's a little OCD with some things (aren't all 3 year olds? Or is it hereditary form the father's side?), but now she's got Aki Fever too! Not bad for a little Suns fan, eh?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Devil Rays Home Opener Tonight! (April 6, 2007)

The new Tropicana Field upgrades and refurbishments will be enjoyed by a packed house of paying attendees tonight as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays open against the Toronto Blue Jays. James Shields takes the mound for the Rays as they battle Gustavo Chacin at 7:10 ET. The sellout is only the 5th in team history (first game in 1998, 2004 and 2006 home openers and a July 2004 game vs. the Yanks). A crowd of 38,600 is expected for the Rays' 10th Home Opening game.

Starter James Shields, who was Tampa Bay BBWAA's choice as top Devil Rays rookie last year also set team Spring Training records for Innings Pitched (29.1) and Strikeouts (30). His 30 strikeouts was 2007-high among all Spring Training pitchers. Today will mark his second career start vs. the Blue Jays (Aug 16, 2006, Won 8-3)

Both teams come into the contest with a record of 1-1. This is the third time the Blue Jays were the opponent's in a Tampa Bay home opener (record split at 1-1). Sunday's afternoon matchup pits Roy Halladay against Scott Kazmir in a series-capping battle of Aces. The Devil Rays are of course Baseball's youngest team, the Blue Jays are the 21st youngest team.

Tonight's Home Opening ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by newly elected Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist and caught by St Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. The National Anthem will be sung by former New York City police officer, Daniel Rodriguez.

The home opener is a chance to jump on the lofty goal set forth by management to win at least 50 games at home this year and help establish a dominant mindset at home.

The Devil Rays players are surely happy to be home after their bundled up, snow infused victory over the New York Yankees last night, 7-6 in the wintry Bronx. I have to say though, some of the players looked at little felinish wearing all the stay-warm gear. Hey fellas, it gets cold in October too (start getting used to it!) So much for the "football player" comparisons that announcers were thrusting upon the team..

Elijah Dukes could make history tonight. Thirteen players before him (since 1900) hit HRs in each of their first two games. Elijah was the first to pull the feat off against the Yankees. He could become the ONLY player in MLB history to hit a HR in each of his first three games!

The Devil Rays are also leading the Major Leagues in stolen bases with 6 (tied with the Twins) despite playing only two games so far.

Today is also the one year anniversary of Joe Maddon's first managerial win.

Go Devil Rays!!!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Which Devil Ray Player(s) COULD end up in Cooperstown one day?

Which Devil Ray(s) COULD end up in Cooperstown one day?
Carl Crawford
Scott Kazmir
Rocco Baldelli
B.J. Upton
Delmon Young
Elijah Dukes
Evan Longoria
Reid Brignac
None of the above
What a stupid question to ask!
Free polls from

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Stilings from Game 1

Yankees 9, Devil Rays 5
box score

I had a better re-cap written before my computer crashed just as I was about to hit 'post' - Oh well...

What an exciting game! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything the doomsayers told me was true. The bullpen is the Achilles heel, obviously. OR MAYBE the Yankees are that good, good enough to beat up a bullpen...

All in all, I am THRILLED with the amazing amount of talent and skill on the roster.

The youngest opening day lineup since tyhe 1983 Twins? Hmmm... what did they do four and eight years later?

All in all, I am thrilled to be a Devil Rays fan!

Elijah Dukes goes yard in his first official AB, and CRUSHED it...

Kazmir started out slow, which hurt him a bit and he was lucky to get out of the first inning only giving up two runs. He settled down and looked m uch like the league's best lefty not named Johann...

Carl Crawford was his usual electric stuff and Delmon young IS a total stud! Aki looks really good and the bats were productive.

Nice effort, they played hard, they ran balls out, they just didn't have enough gas in the arms in the 'pen. But we all knew this coming in...

OR MAYBE the pen isn't that bad, they're just horrible in comparison to the rest of the team. Either way, I'll listen to the suggestions to have the intestinal relieving potions readily available.

Well, they say you can't win 'em all if you don't win the first... so much for my 18-0, against the Yankees prediction!

Go Devil Rays!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Play Ball 2007!!!

Opening Day! Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium, Kazmir on the hill, I'm setting the thermostat to game time temperature - 47 F (it's supposed to be 90 here today), the kids are geared up and chanting, I called off work and the adult-themed libations will begin flowing! Has it been WAY too long or what?

"It's MORE than just a game!!!"

Sunday, April 1, 2007

2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Season Preview

I'm not going to one post per position, NO. Through the fine art of chicanery and a swathe of magic, ManRay has made it possible to slap the entire Tampa Bay Devil Rays preview into one, single post! Astounding, eh?

Manny Stiles presents... Your 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Yup, they're a REAL Major League Baseball team!

Let's take a look at what you're dealing with this season!

Manny Stiles – let’s get this business out of the way
As you most likely know, I am the guy who offered my services to ANY MLB team for the entire season for charity on ebay. The Devil Ray’s Team President Matt Silverman won the bid and made me a die-tough Devil Rays fan. Maybe even the ‘Most Unrealistically Hopeful Devil Rays fan’. Now, bear in mind… I’m currently (but maybe not much longer…) employed full-time as a stockbroker, I am the loving father of two beautiful children and a dedicated, faithful husband. Not to mention my “other stiles” – music and video production (at my in-home recording studio), exploring the spiritual realm (I’m also ordained and perform ceremonies) rooting for the Phoenix Suns in basketball, making the “World’s Best Fire Roasted Salsa”, amateur botany and other ‘life arts’; so it’s not like I have time to burn at the computer, I just do what I can (which is less than I am capable of due to my exceedingly ample laziness – Yes, I’m the busiest lazy ass in the biz).

Yeah, I’m a HUGE Devil Rays fan all of a sudden, but that doesn’t change who I am. You’re going to get random observations, in-depth fictional analysis and the tomfoolery and shenanigans you’re used to, but there will be times during the season when you’ll get legitimate journalism, quality player interviews and game reviews all with a twist of tomfoolery and shenanigans!

I will be meeting up with the team in several locations throughout the season, starting with a visit to St Petersburg THIS MONTH! I will be experiencing and reporting on the team from all aspects during a 3-game home stand versus the Cleveland Indians. Fun, fun!

Also, prepare yourselves adequately for the World’s Largest Running Game Blog (from the Trop!) on April 23, 2007, a nationally televised game on ESPN against the New York Yankees..

There will also be the matchup in June in my hometown of Phoenix that I will be attending, another ttrip to Florida in September and the possibility of me picking up a game or two at Anaheim (a mere 5 hour drive, so we’ll see).

Needless to say, it WILL be an exciting season and an incredible journey through 162 games.


This year's motto "It's MORE than just a game" is a bit perplexing but a motto nonetheless. I would have gone with "The Yankees Will Always Suck", "F U and the Red Sox too..." or "Let the AL East kiss our collective asses", but that's among the reasons why I'm not out there running a baseball team already. (Nor enjoying a career as a politician.)

It seems this will be the last season of the “Devil” Rays. The new ownership (more on them in a bit) wanted to exorcise the ‘Devil” and will be calling the team (most likely, nothing official) just the “Tampa Bay Rays” next season. Judging from the info you can find out there, they already got rid of the ‘Devil’. I don't think they care about the impact this will have on wiki-sites!

My guess is they will ignore my pleas and miniscule attempts to keep the ‘Devil’, go to something cooler or go out and ‘Win one for the Devil’ (see #60), but you can still VOTE for your moniker of favoritocity among other meanderful offerings.

New Ownership

You know, a lot of people live in the past too much. Get with the times, people! There’s NEW ownership in Western Florida and there’s a NEW, fresh way of approaching the game. 8+ years of aged veterans, flacid ticket sales and dreadful mis-management are a thing of the far, distant past and I’ll have NO MORE of that kind of talk. The Future is here AND still coming. The on-field and the off-field outlook is bright. Things are changing on the Gulf Coast and I’ll gladly whip the horses pulling this bandwagon. Hey, I guess it REALLY IS “More than just a game”!

Principle owner Stu Sternberg, one of the youngest owners in MLB is a former options trader, who was a partner of another trading firm then moved on to Goldman Sachs before retiring. He went from minority owner to majority owner of the “Worst Pro Sports Franchise in North America” in Fall 2005. Maybe it’s a news update to some, Vince Naimoli and his cheapskateness is long gone from the decision making process (rumors have surfaced that he may be brought back as an advisor. Calm down people, regardless of what happened AFTER, he’s the one who brought baseball to Tampa). Sternberg has the undeniable drive and love of baseball needed to succeed. He doesn’t seem afraid of making the business work and the product entertaining. He promises progressive thinking, bold changes and projects the team to win 50 games at home this year. He wants to move the past far, far behind what’s going on now.

He brought in Team President Matt Silverman, his former underling/protégé in the Mergers and Acquisitions Department at Goldman Sachs. Silverman is a Harvard grad. So to say that Stu and Matt have an idea of what works and what doesn’t in the business aspect would be a major understatement. These guys aren’t afraid to go “outside the box” or approach issues with forward thinking and fresh perspective. I would also say Silverman is a risk-taker (He brought me on board, for instance)

10th Anniversary

And a beautiful patch at that!

At least they didn't go all stupid with the word “anniversary” and smartly chose “10 Seasons”. WAAAAY back in 1998 the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays joined the leagues and June 18th, 19th and 20th in Phoenix, Arizona they get to go head to head. Yes, I’ll be there taunting the locals (who are all from someplace else anyway)!


First Base
First looks like Ty Wigginton’s job by default. He’s got some decent pop and will be doing a lot of batting cleanup and he might see some time at second base or third base (fantasy alert, he’s eligible at all bases). Ty brings energy, hustle, grit and the closest thing to veteran leadership this team has. Wiggy will lead by example and will make sure the clubhouse is focused and that players get muddy and bloody in giving every ounce of effort.
Others who could don the big mitt: Greg Norton (currently on the 15 day DL) and who the hell knows who else? I guess ANY one!

Second Base
Well, Jorge Cantu is out and BJ Upton might have found a position, after all. In a somewhat surprising move, Cantu was sent to the minors and (of course) has demanded a trade. He was sent down in favor of Jonny Gomes. Everyone knew there was a logjam of bats in the outfield and a trade was imminent, but moving Cantu may have been the best option. He’s a middle infielder, has some value in a trade after topping 120 rbis just two years ago.

Upton is an interesting case. He was penciled in as a Chone Figgans-like role player this season. Drafted as the “Next Alex Rodriguez”, Upton finally has an opportunity to excel and dominate at a position that may make his many imminent All-Star appearances even easier to achieve (How many great second basemen are around?). He’s still young, still uber-talented and may even have a chance to “just play baseball” instead of dealing the convoluted and jarbled mess of his fielding prowess.

Upton can also play other positions and could even end up at third or outfield eventually. I think second is a nice fit for B.J. and for the team at this point. He’ll be backed up by Brendan Harris and Ty Wigginton on occasion. Maybe even Jorge Cantu will stick around, patiently work his way back/get an opportunity due to injury to the bigs.

Ben Zobrist won the job at short. He came to the Rays in the Aubrey Huff trade last season and has a slick glove. He’s no Kevin Stocker! B J Upton may see some time at short as well along with utility infielder Brendan Harris.

Third Base
Japanese Import Akinori Iwamura will get the call at third. With all the hype surrounding Dice-K and Kei Igawa in the AL East, Iwamura could be a pleasant surprise. He doesn’t come with the same pedigree as other Japanese imports, but once he settles to life in the Bigs, that could easily change. Ultimately, he may just be keeping 3rd warm for super-prospect Evan Longoria. Backing him up will be Upton, Wigginton and Harris.

Another long-touted prospect, Dioner Navarro will get the majority of the workload behind the dish. He’s currently dealing with nagging injuries but looks a sure bet to start Opening Day with Josh Paul backing him up. Shawn Riggans and Raul Casanova are down in Durham ready to go if need be.

If you read an article that talks about 'best outfields' that DOESN'T mention the Devil Rays, throw it away (if it's online, chuck your computer)

Baseball’s Most Exciting Player, Carl Crawford returns to patrol leftfield. At 25 years old, he needs 65 hits to become the franchise’s all-time hit leader. Crawford is always a threat to join the ultra-exclusive 20-20-20-20 club (20 each - 2Bs, 3Bs, HRs and SBs) Of course, there’s a lot of speculation that he is headed towards free agency. I think he’ll get locked up with a long-term deal sooner than later. He is the face of the franchise. Jonny Gomes might see some time in left as well, along with Rocco Baldelli and others.

New starting centerfielder Elijah Dukes will get to make his debut as a starter in Yankee Stadium. A legendary sign of things to come? Many people question his character, and for ‘’almost valid’’ reasons, but there’s no reason to question his ability. Dukes looked like a Monster and played like a Monster in Spring Training. Maybe there’s more to this kid than suspensions and Baby’s Mamas. Upton (there he is again) could see some time in CF as well as Rocco Baldelli.

Right Field
Tools, tools, tools. Delmon Young, the impending 2007 AL Rookie of the Year (you heard me, DiceDub) and future Hall of Famer will start in right, may see some DH time. Young is known for his patience at the plate like Manny Stiles is known for his avoidance of sarcasm. Young set one of the highest percentages of pitches swung at in baseball history last year. He swung at over 61% of pitches offered. I think he may surpass last year’s ONE walk (which probably came on a full count when he was distracted by a heckler, an umpire or a heckling umpire). He WILL learn plate patience as the season progresses and teams start to take note of his “dangerous” bat. Young also has the distinction of getting HBP in his first at-bat and hitting a HR for his first base hit. He will be backed up in the field on occasion by Jonny Gomes and/or Elijah Dukes

Designated Hitter
Looks like Rocco Baldelli will be the primary DH to start the season. He’s still nursing a tweaked right hammy.. I’m not sure if he’s being dangled as trade bait, if they’re trying to keep him from getting hurt in the field, or (most likely) Dukes really is THAT good. Whatever. Baldelli can hit and is nice insurance if someone in the outfield goes down to injury.

Jonny Gomes will also take his cuts from the DH role and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the other outfielders to DH as well as Wiggy and Upton on occasion.
Too many bats ‘’can’’ be a good thing!

Let’s be honest. Every team has a weakness. Since baseball is comprised of 90% pitching and defense and the other half is luck… The Devil Rays have a slight conundrum. The starters have promise and the bullpen has questions. So as one can comfortably surmise, the Rays will go as far as their pitching staff will take them. (Hush those “Uh-oh’s” right now!)

Scott Kazmir could be the next Steve Carlton. Not just because he’s a lefty, but because people think he’s the only starter on the staff capable of putting up wins and could take a run at Carton’s ’72 season where he won HALF of the teams games. Sorry, but Kazmir would have to win 40 or so games with THIS team to make that occur! Kazmir is dominant when healthy and should be a mainstay for years to come (and to rub in Mets fans’ faces). He needs 14 wins to become the franchise’s all time wins leader.

South Korean native Jae Seo who finished the season 1-8 with the Rays (during the atrocious 2006 second half debacle) isn’t going to be dominant, he’s been prone to the long ball and racking up losses, but he’ll eat innings. For a team that had exactly ZERO pitchers over 150innings last season, innings eaters are needed. He came over in the Julio Lugo trade from the Dodgers last year along with Dioner Navarro.

Jamie Shields is a big righty that showed a ton of promise as a rookie last year, showing good control 104-38 K/BB before succumbing to nagging injuries, and projects as a solid #2 pitcher for years to come.

Casey Fossum is yet another Devil Ray that spent a chunk of his career on the “Top Prospects” list. Unfortunately, he’ll never live up to the lofty expectations, but he’s a crafty veteran and a lefty to boot. The career WHIP loitering around 1.5 and career 2-1 K/BB isn’t going to frighten many, but one of these years he’ll put it all together, right?

Did I say this team is loaded with former “can’t miss” prospects? Remember when Edwin Jackson was considered untrade-able? Well, he’s the Rays’ fifth starter now. Yeah, you think he’s SO washed up right? Well, he’s a whopping 23 years old, so I think the projections aren’t out of reach quite yet… That being said, he ‘’was’’ out of options so maybe the insertion at starter was just a way of not outright releasing him? I hold hope. Sometimes guys like Jackson just need the opportunity to get on the hill and work. Here’s his chance!

For the most part, I don’t have much to say about this group as I haven’t seen much of them.
Shawn Camp is solid enough to get 70-80 appearances, Ruddy Lugo is Julio’s lil’ bro, Juan Salas is not to be confused with Walter Johnson. Brian Stokes may close some games. Gary Glover and Al Reyes both made it into the ‘pen as a non-roster invitees.

Jae Kuk Ryu may be best known (if known at all?) for his ability to kill endangered birds with his accuracy, but also adds more depth and dimension to the relieving corps.

What's not clear (to me at least) is who the closer will be but it looks like we're gonna see the "bullpen by committee".

Former closer/flamethrower Seth McClung was also shocked (like Cantu) to be sent to the Minors.

In the Minors
There’s a stockpile of talent on the horizon! Tampa Bay has always been a team of highly touted prospects (Josh Hamilton, Toe Nash, Dewon Brazleton, etc) but the next wave has begun to pay dividends. ELEVEN players on the opening day roster were never on an opening day roster before!

The Devil Rays have SEVEN of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects for 2007, including Opening Day starters Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. But along with the aforementioned Evan Longoria, there is also stud shortstop Reid Brignac, and pitchers Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee on the slate as well.

Durham Bulls fans will also enjoy watching off and on Big Leaguers J.P. Howell, Seth McClung, Joel Guzman, Wes Bankston, Hee-Seop Choi, Dustan Mohr, Jason Grabowski and Carlos Pena. It remains to be seen what will happen with Jorge Cantu.

Coaching Staff
Joe Maddon came in to clean up the damage done by “Semi-Sweet” Lou Piniella. Piniella was a hard-assed hot head that spent too much time looking for Steve Lyons' wallet where Maddon is a positive energy, teamwork oriented kind of guy. His overuse of the pronoun-oriented catch phrase “we-us” may be corny to some, but it’s refreshing. Isn’t there enough negativity in pro sports already? I think he’s a good fit for a young team with a bright, hopeful future.

Bill Evers – Bench Coach
George Hendrick – First Base Coach
Tom Foley – Third Base Coach
Jim Hickey – Pitching Coach
Steve Henderson – Hitting Coach
Bobby Ramos –Bullpen Coach
Don Zimmer – Senior Baseball Advisor
Dave Martinez – Special Assistant

Overall, the team is pretty right-handed (bats and arms). Maybe that’s not a bad thing in the AL East, but typically, balance goes a long way and provides options. The team is very young and clearly focusing on building their foundation and getting things headed in the right direction with anticipation for a prosperous future. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities to envision the Rays as top contenders for years to come. But conventional wisdom says that won’t happen THIS year. Manny’s unrealistic hopefulness says “It’s not impossible”. Plenty of teams… OK, a few HAVE gone from worst to first. But those teams didn’t play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox.

I still (assuredly) believe without a doubt that this IS a better than .500 team. Whether they surpass .500, we will see. But I’m betting/banking/counting on/guaranteeing this IS the squad that achieves the first +70 win season in franchise history.

Delmon Young – Rookie of the Year, also gets 100+ RBI
Scott Kazmir and Carl Crawford – AL ALL-Stars
Carl Crawford – 20-20-20-20 AND a +.300 AVG
Scott Kazmir 18+ wins, sub 3.60 ERA, 200+Ks (and Cy Young contention)
Wigginton, Crawford, Dukes, Young and Upton all to reach 20 homer plateau.
Rays win more than 50 games at home, just as Sternberg projects.

Final Record 86-76, 3rd place AL East (9 GB)

Go Devil Rays! And don’t forget to check out Devil Rays Universe often to follow the improbable tale of the Tampa Bay Rays and Manny Stiles’ new fanatical obsession that started for charity!
Less than a day until we start beating the crap out of the Yankees again!

Opening Day lineup:
LF Carl Crawford
SS Ben Zobrist
DH Rocco Baldelli
1B Ty Wigginton
RF Delmon Young
3B Akinori Iwamura
C Dioner Navarro
CF Elijah Dukes
2B BJ Upton

SP Scott Kazmir