Monday, April 23, 2007

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!


Anonymous said...

Your resident Indians fan would like to remind you that it's Ryan Garko, not Matt.

Manny Stiles said...

What the... Thanks! that's like the ninth time I've done that to him! I know better... I guess he just looks like a Matt to me?!

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