“Ninety feet between the bases is the nearest thing to perfection that man has yet achieved.” -
-Red Smith, sportswriter, 1905-82
I was walking the dogs yesterday morning, and as I looked westward across the state toward Tampa Bay I saw a brilliant blue sky and felt a brisk wind whipping a temperature that reminded me that Spring Training is right around the corner. My girls, Hannah and Sarah, and a friend of theirs from high school, were running in the St. Petersburg Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, which began around 7:30.
Although the race started just outside The Trop, I am sure they were more interested in putting one foot in front of the other, not only to traverse 13.1 miles, but also to stay as warm as possible.
By Central Florida standards, Sunday was frigid. The high for us in Melbourne was around 55 degrees. The temp was somewhere around 40 degrees, with a nasty, biting wind when I was outside.
How does that remind me that Spring Training is just around the corner? Well, cloudless blue skies, known as high skies, can give baseball players fits when a true “major league” pop-up or fly ball is hit. Mix in a high wind, and it provides a circus-like atmosphere for infielders and outfielders alike.
Fans in the stands mumble “I could have done THAT” when the ball drops safely to the grass after having made major league athletes look like Magellan circumnavigating the globe and coming up with their gloves empty as hitters end up on base when they would normally be headed to the dugout. I miss those days, both as a coach and as a player, even though the elements made me look like a drunk chasing a butterfly on more than one occasion.
Yes, Spring Training is just around the corner. The Rays’ pitchers and catchers have their first workout in Port Charlotte on February 21st, and the full club begins workouts on February 24th.
New faces will be present, as well as the gone and now back face of Carlos Pena. Johnny Damon still sits in free agent limbo, and several names from last year’s roster now go by the term “former Tampa Bay Ray.” Included are “Home Run” Dan Johnson, who signed a minor league contract with the White Sox and Andy Sonnanstine, who had seemed such a fixture on the pitching staff since 2007, along with Juan Cruz, who gave the team significant innings, and Kelly Shoppach, he of the great attitude and self-deprecating sense of humor. Last season’s team leader in batting average, Casey Kotchman, a local kid, is now with the Cleveland Indians.
This isn’t to say the moves weren’t good ones for the team.
This isn’t to say we, as fans, will just forget about those who made the Rays what they were.
This is just the nature of the business side of the game, and a wish that all goes well for those who have been a part of what Tampa Bay baseball is all about. It is also a time to look forward, and give an opportunity to new names and faces.
Speaking of new faces, I have been looking over the prospect list for the Rays. Seems like the farm is still doing a great job. FanNation has the Rays’ minor league system ranked #2, while aolnews.com has them at #3. It seems that overall the organization is ranked in the top five in baseball by most. Tampa Bay has six names in the Top 100 Prospects put out by MLB.com. They are as follows: LHP Mike Moore, #1, SS Hak-Ju-Lee, #46, RHP Chris Archer, #74, SS Tim Beckham, #92, OF Mikie Mahtook, #96, and RHP Taylor Guerrieri, #99.
For a different look at the Top 20 Prospects for Tampa Bay. I took special note of #20, Lenny Linsky. Any pitcher with a low-mid 90s velocity with nasty sink and a legit slider can go a long way. It’s hard to square up on a guy who can throw it down the middle and have it bite either way.
To wrap up, all the girls did complete the half marathon. They spent the rest of their Sunday relaxing and trying to stay warm. By now, I bet they’ve gotten back to thinking about Rays’ baseball, which is right around the corner.
“For me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of the hit and run.”
-Branch Rickey, former Dodgers’ GM