The First Days of Spring

Another Spring Training is upon us! The sun is shining. The grass is freshly cut. The birds are singing. Baseball is back!

And I still despise the Tampa Bay Rays.

I feel the need to clarify this, because today I spent yet another morning at the Rays Spring Training facility in the beautiful, historic town of Port Charlotte. My motivation to go see the Rays practice is always the same. I get to spend a few hours in the beautiful weather watching baseball, and if I can trip a few Rays players while I’m there, even better!

Here are my short and sweet observations from Rays camp today:

  • I watched every catcher in the Rays system practice throwing to the bases. Newcomer Ryan Hanigan has the worst arm out of all of them.
  • Grant Balfour was already in mid-season form with his potty mouth. He dropped more F-bombs during practice than the first hour of Pulp Fiction. But he curses in Australian, so it wasn’t that bad.
  • Chris Archer looked great today, and it wasn’t hard to notice that everyone in the Rays organization likes this kid. Brains and talent!
  • It was easy to see that David Price and Evan Longoria have taken a leadership-by-example approach this season. Both guys were the first ones in the drill lines, and would run to the next field during their 15-minute rotations.
  • Jose Molina is still really fat.
  • Not to beat a dead horse, but how does Dave Martinez not have a manager job yet? Even worse, you don’t even hear him being in the discussion anymore.
  • The Rays will win the AL East and play in the World Series this year.

I’m going to go watch practice again later this week. I’ll be sure to bring a few Rays voodoo dolls with me.

You Complete Me

I don’t consider myself a writer. I’m a guy that enjoys talking about baseball and sharing my opinions with a group of educated baseball fans. During the baseball season, I read every article I can get my hands on, and I follow a bunch of baseball writers on Twitter. Of all the writers I follow, there are a handful that are a must-read every day. Pete Abraham & Nick Cafardo with the Boston Globe, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, and Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian with ESPN. But my favorite of all is Buster Olney.

Buster Olney is everywhere… Baseball Tonight, Twitter, Podcasts, SportsCenter, and ESPN’s baseball telecasts. He also writes a daily article on ESPN.com in which he links all the baseball news for all the MLB teams. It’s always a good read. He really is the hardest working guy in baseball.

I had planned on going to the Rays practice today with my buddy Trent (RedRays) and a couple of friends from work. While making our plans, I noticed on Twitter that ESPN and Buster Olney were going to be in Port Charlotte. I relayed this to Trent, who replied, “We gotta get a pic with him for thefoulline.com!” This became our mission.

We arrived at the stadium at 9:30 to a capacity crowd of twenty other fans. The gates opened and we made our way to the closest field to watch the Rays stretch, run 20-yard dashes, and play catch. We were able to score a prime fence-line position in front of the immortal Shelley Duncan (who promptly shouted “Nobody likes you!” to an annoyingly obnoxious fan that has some sort of personal vendetta against Jose Molina) and the enigmatic Yunel Escobar, who for some odd reason got along great with the loud obnoxious jackass. He even tossed the loudmouth a ball. That sounds about right.

We worked our way around the park checking out the different fields. No sign of Buster.

We watched Matt Moore throw batting practice. I know it’s early, but he was all over the place. I only saw him throw a handful of strikes the entire session. We witnessed James Loney making a SportsCenter top-10 catch during fielding drills, and a bewildered Jeff Niemann having trouble keeping the ball down in PFP.

Practice was winding down, and still no Buster. I was receiving texts from thefoulline.com headquarters inquiring on the status of the Buster meet & greet. I had nothing to report.

But as the clock struck 11 am, who do I see walking down the center sidewalk, notepad in hand? It’s Buster Olney!

I walked up to him and told him I was a big fan and enjoyed his writing. He seemed taken aback by this and maybe a little embarrassed. Maybe he doesn’t have many lunatic blog writers bum-rush him at spring training practices? I asked for a quick picture with him. Redrays was Johnny-on-the-spot and snapped a keeper. I thanked Buster for his time and said it was nice to meet him. He replied, “Any idea which field Wil Myers is on?” I just happened to know exactly where he was. “Sure, I’ll show you.” As we walked to the field, we had a quick Q&A:

Buster: so are you a Rays fan?
Me: Nope… I like the Red Sox. This park is just so convenient to watch practice.
Buster: How do you think they’re going to do this year?
Me: They have to be better than last season, right?
Buster: It’s hard to say… They all really hated each other last year. The guys they brought in may make a difference.
Me: They were hard to watch. Hopefully their mojo is better at least.
Buster: Well, gotta go… Good luck with your Sox this year!
Me: You complete me!
Ok, that last part didn’t happen, but this encounter with Buster Olney confirmed my thoughts about him. He’s engaging, friendly, and professional. It was worth the trip to Charlotte County Stadium.

Rays-centric Quick Hits:

  • How does Dave Martinez not have a managing job? When he was asked this today by a fan, he replied, “I want to win one in Tampa before going anywhere else.” He’s a class act.
  • Luke Scott is crazy. He hung the boar’s head that he killed with a spear in the Rays clubhouse. He talks to everyone – players, coaches, fans, security guards. Is he the new Jonny Gomes in Tampa?
  • I watched Chris Archer throw some serious cheese. He has an easy, effortless delivery that pops the catcher’s mitt on every throw.
  • Speaking of impressive performances… Juan Sandoval had quite a crowd around him during his pitching session. He looked good, throwing strike after strike. What made this even more impressive? He’s blind in his right eye.
  • I saw Super-GM Andrew Friedman walk into a port-a-potty while chatting on his cellphone, then walk out while still talking. I’m guessing he didn’t wash his hands.
  • Watched super prospect Wil Myers take BP today. He didn’t rake like I had hoped, but RedRays and I both noticed he doesn’t wear batting gloves. This led to RedRays asking, “Do you think he pees on his hands like Moises Alou?”
  • It blows my mind that the Rays don’t have more fans. They have a quality organization, great spring training facility, and legitimate superstars in Price and Longoria, and they compete every year. They deserve better.

We finished the day at The October Boys’s restaurant, Bocca Lupo in Port Charlotte. It’s the best pizza around. It was a perfect ending to a fun day. Check it out when you’re down here for spring training!

Start Me Up

Baseball season is finally back, and although the offseason for the Boston Red Sox didn’t go the way I’d hope it would, I’m still optimistic for a successful 2009 campaign.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona don’t read thefoulline.com. If they had, we’d be watching Mark Texiera and Derek Lowe gearing up for the season in Fort Myers, while watching the enigmatic Julio Lugo and overrated Jason Varitek packing their bags to destination Anywhere But Boston.

But after my initial disappointment with the lack of big name signings, I’m starting to really like the additions of Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and especially future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. These guys are low cost, with potential huge rewards for Boston. Even though Smoltz won’t be ready until June, he could be the big addition to the lineup that usually takes place at the trade deadline. If Boston makes the postseason, a lineup with Josh Beckett and John Smoltz would be scary.

Before we can talk about the playoffs, there are a lot of questions about this team that could severely affect their post season chances. Will Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell rebound from their 2008 injury-plagued season? With Coco Crisp shipped off to Kansas City, is Jacoby Ellsbury ready to be the everyday centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Can a full season of Jason Bay make up for the loss of Manny? Who will be the Red Sox catcher of the future?

To make matters worse, rivals Tampa Bay and New York revamped their already dangerous lineups. The Yankees decided to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on big-game choker CC Sabathia, the oft-injured A.J. Burnett, and current thefoulline.com public enemy #2 Mark Texiera. Will this high priced talent lead to a return to the postseason for the Bronx Bombers? Or will these guys wilt under the pressure of playing in the Big Apple like Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano? Let’s hope for the latter.

As for the Rays, I really like the additions of Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce to fill the right field and designated hitter spots. This is a big upgrade of the Gabe Gross/Cliff Floyd combo. I’m interested in seeing whether Evan Longoria can duplicate his rookie season, and if the Rays can repeat their success with their closer-by-committee bullpen.

The good news is baseball is back.
The competition  for the AL East crown promises to be fierce.
Let the games begin!

Love to Hate

Let me start by saying that I hate the Rays. With the exception of Evan Longoria, who is obviously a superstar, and Carlos Pena, who goes unnoticed as the Rays’ team leader, I hate every player, coach and manager on that team. Is it sour grapes because they’ve won the season series with Boston? Maybe. But unlike the national media, I do not see these Rays as the darlings of the league. I find them utterly unlikeable, and I can’t put my finger on the exact reason.

Maybe it stems from their stupid name. What exactly is a Ray? Does it mean a ray of hope for a team that had sucked for so long? Is it short for x-ray, to describe the transparency of the fair-weather fans that are suddenly so eager to jump aboard the bandwagon? (Dan excluded, of course.) Whatever it means, it’s a stupid name. Sure, Red Sox is not the manliest name, but at least I know what it means.

Maybe it’s because of Jonny Gomes and his endless string of cheap shots. Or Carl Crawford’s gangster neck tattoo. Or maybe it’s because Gabe Gross looks like he should be selling life insurance instead of patrolling right field. Maybe it’s B.J. Upton’s never-ending wad of chew that never leaves his left cheek. Or Dioner Navarro’s stupid kiss to the dugout after every hit. I even hate Joe Magrane and Dewayne Staats. I hope that they both suffer from non-cancerous polyps of their vocal cords.

I may not like these guys, but I am not going to discount their success playing in and winning the hardest division in baseball. These guys just find every conceivable way to win, and it drives me absolutely nuts. I’ve watched a lot of Rays baseball this year, and I’m pretty sure that they have never lost. This team is giving me nightmares.

Now, being the stubborn Sox fan that I am, I still like Boston’s chances to go to back-to-back World Series, and here’s why. First of all, Boston has a ton of postseason experience. Normally this would be a bigger advantage, but unfortunately Tampa has proved to be oblivious to pressure. Secondly, Boston has the best scouting department in the majors. They have consistently prepared Boston for every postseason opponent the last several years. They can pinpoint another team’s tendencies and weaknesses and exploit them. Thirdly, Boston has not played their best baseball… yet. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim handed the Red Sox this series on a silver platter, with their shoddy fielding and ill-advised suicide squeezes.

These guys are ready to fire on all cylinders. Jon Lester is an Ace, Papelbon is pitching lights out, Jason Bay and J.D. are coming up with huge at-bats, and there is no way in hell that Dustin Pedroia has a repeat performance of the ALDS.  I also see Josh Beckett knocking off the rust and regaining his form from past postseasons. This is a team that is ready to take off.

Boston wins this series in 6.

Makes Me Wonder

The three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins was exactly what the Boston Red Sox needed. The Sox have been going through the motions lately, getting little to no production from Manny, Lugo, Ellsbury, and Varitek. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been getting hit. These guys had looked like a shell of their former selves.

During this series with Minnesota, Boston won the first game 1-0. They rallied back from a three-run deficit to win the second game, and they had the blowout in the third game to cap the sweep. I know that one good series doesn’t make a season, but this could be a turning point for the Sox. They beat a very good team three times, in three very different ways. Boston is finally getting healthy, and this could be when we see the real Red Sox show up.

Thefoulline.com Quick Hits:

  • Boston is 34-10 playing at Fenway and 21-29 on the road. Home field is going to be more important than ever this postseason.
  • Some guy named Clay Buchholz is starting for Boston Friday night. I hope that he can do as well as some of the other young pitchers the Red Sox have used this year.
  • Congrats to Evan Longoria for making the All Star team. It’s well deserved and is sure to be the first of many during his career.
  • Speaking of the All Star game… Imagine, if you will, the 9th inning, the AL up by one run. Francona goes to the bullpen, the last All Star game in Yankee Stadium… and out comes Jonathan Papelbon. It won’t happen. But it would be awesome to stick it to the entire state of New York.
  • Dustin Pedroia needs to be in the running for the MVP of the league.
  • Vernon Wells of the Toronto Blue Jays is injured again and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. It’s time for Toronto to concede the season and look towards next year.
  • After dropping three in a row, and losing 13-2 to Cleveland as I write this, you know that the Rays are counting the minutes to the All Star break so they can regroup. This is just a bump in the road. They’ll be competitive all year long.
  • Is A-Rod dating Madonna really newsworthy? Would this even be in the paper if the Yankees were relevant?

All Star

Baseball has some of the most passionate and knowledgeable fans in all of sports, but for some reason, when the fans have the chance to select the starters for the mid-summer classic, they have the tendency to pick with their hearts instead of their brains. As much as I like players like Jason Varitek and Ken Griffey Jr., they are not deserving of an All Star nod. With the All Star selections being announced at 2:00 p.m. today, I’m going to jump the gun and give you the players that have truly played like an All Star during the first half of the season.

Although I’d like to make the team entirely of Red Sox players, I’m going to try to be as impartial as possible, which means there may be a Ray or a Yankee on the team. Ugh!

American League

Catcher: Joe Mauer
Pencil him in for the next ten years.

First Base: Justin Morneau
This was a close race between Youkilis and Morneau. Both players have similar numbers. I just think Morneau is better.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
This guy is a great hitter and an under-appreciated defender. His defense gives him a slight edge over Ian Kinsler.

Third base: Alex Rodriguez
After a controversial week in the tabloids, this selection should soothe the Material Girl’s pain.

Shortstop: Michael Young
Sorry, Jeter. I know that this is the last year in Yankee Stadium, but Young is better than you.

Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quinton
There have been some great performances by AL outfielders during the first half of the season. These three have been the best.

Designated Hitter: Milton Bradley
Even with one arm, I think Big Papi should be the DH. But I’m afraid that Bradley will hunt me down and beat me to a pulp if he’s not picked.

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee
11-1, 2.26 ERA. Lee has been the biggest pitching surprise in the league.

Reserves:
Dioner Navarro C
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Ian Kinsler 2B
Brian Roberts 2B
Evan Longoria 3B
Derek Jeter SS
B.J. Upton OF
Nick Markakis OF
Ichiro Suzuki OF
J.D. Drew OF
Roy Halladay SP
Ervin Santana SP
James Shields SP
Justin Duchscherer SP
Joe Saunders SP
Gavin Floyd SP
Jon Lester SP
Jonathan Papelbon RP
Francisco Rodriguez RP
Mariano Rivera RP

National League

Catcher: Russell Martin
Martin is in a class by himself. Easily the best catcher in baseball.

First Base: Lance Berkman
After an amazing first half, Berkman is the NL MVP.

Second Base: Chase Utley
24 ding-dongs on the season so far. He has carried the Phillies.

Third base: Larry Jones
Grown men shouldn’t be called Chipper, even when they hit close to .400.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez
This guy makes the game look easy. He’s a lock for the next ten years.

Designated Hitter: Ryan Howard
I like that this guy will either strikeout or go yard. There is no in-between.

Outfield: Nate McLouth, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Braun
These three aren’t the biggest names in the National League, but they’ve been carrying their respective teams.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
This kid weighs 120 pounds and throws 98 MPH. The fact that he’s 10-1 and is the lone bright spot on the Giants also helps.

Reserves:
Geovany Soto C
Brian McCann C
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Derrek Lee 1B
Dan Uggla 2B
David Wright 3B
Jose Reyes SS
Miguel Tejada SS
Carlos Lee OF
Pat Burrell OF
Matt Holliday OF
Edinson Volquez SP
Brandon Webb SP
Dan Haren SP
Cole Hamels SP
Ben Sheets SP
Ryan Dempster SP
Kerry Wood RP
Jose Valverde RP
Brad Lidge RP

So there you have it, the official thefoulline.com 2008 All Star Team.

Here Comes the Sun

The sun did rise today.

The birds are singing, and things seem to be OK.

After watching the Red Sox get out-hit, out-pitched, outplayed and out-cheered the last three nights, I wasn’t so sure that was going to happen. But here we are – it’s a new day and we have the damn Yankees to focus on.

There’s a lot of baseball left to played. Let’s turn this thing around.

Thefoulline.com quick hits

  • After receiving threats in the mail a few days ago, Sox players avoided fans in the stands like they had the ebola virus (with David Aardsma being the exception, but I think he may have a few screws loose anyway).
  • Walking into the game last night and seeing ex-Sox player Bill Lee in attendance signing autographs I thought was going to be a good omen. It wasn’t.
  • Evan Longoria is a great ballplayer, but after watching him interact with the young fans in the crowd, I think he is an even better person. Within two years, this guy is going to be the most popular player in baseball.
  • With Terry Francona picking the reserves for the All-Star Game, I think Longoria just secured a spot on the roster.
  • Funny observation of the night: The Red Sox coaches warm up as if they are playing that night. I watched as Brad Mills and Luis Alicea played some long toss before the game. After watching the Sox bullpen implode last night, they could have used them.
  • Three games, three dumb moves by Francona. Game 1: Not pinch hitting Sean Casey for Lugo in the 9th inning. Game 2: Having the ice-cold Jason Varitek pinch hit. Game 3: Keeping Craig Hansen in the game too long and having him walk half the Rays lineup.
  • Bonus dumb move from Game 3: Having the above mentioned Varitek do a hit and run with the slowest guy on the team standing on first base. It was a recipe for failure.
  • Manny sucks.
  • What a relief, Boston has four games against the Yankees.
  • 3 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay Rays feels like 100 right now.
  • Thanks to the Rays fan who jump started my truck in the parking lot after the game. I take back some of the bad stuff I’ve said about their kind in the past.