Tag Archives: Rays

Baseball’s Beasts are in the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson
Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Rays’ Spring Home Garners Top Honors

The other day USA Today announced the results of a poll of Top 10 Spring Training Ballparks as voted by their readers.

Lists like this are often subjective in nature and one could make arguments that what makes one Ballpark better than another one is in the eye of the beholder with everyone looking for something a little different in terms of what makes a good Ballpark.

While some people might look for a Ballpark that has more amenities such as luxury suites, others might look for a Ballpark that feels like it belongs back in the Golden Age of baseball. With that caveat in place, I tend to mostly agree with the results of the poll.Charlotte Sports Park Map

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson
The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

While there seems to be a yearly campaign of complaining about their regular season home, Tropicana Field, The Tampa Bay Rays garnered the top spot with their Spring Training Home the Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.

I visited Charlotte Sports Park a few years back and definitely found it to be a very nice complex and one that I definitely hope to return to many times.

For the record I also tend to think that Tropicana Field is a very suitable Ballpark for baseball and am growing tired of the yearly whining about how out of date it is and how much it needs to be replaced.

Charlotte Sports Park underwent a $27,000,000 renovation in 2009 and is utilized by the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League at the conclusion of Spring Training which allows for nearly year round use of the complex.

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action. Photo R. Anderson
With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from the bragging rights of having the favorite Ballpark the Rays also boast one of the shortest commutes between Spring Training home and regular season home with a drive of about 90 minutes between St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins are the other teams who spend the Spring and regular season based in the same state and also enjoy short commutes for their fans.

Of course the Tampa Bay Rays once had a much shorter Spring Training commute when they spent the entire year in St. Petersburg, FL splitting time between Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field a few miles down the road.

The full Top 10 list features only three Ballparks from Arizona’s Cactus League showing that most people surveyed prefer their Spring Training baseball in the Grapefruit League under the Florida sun.

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other. Photo R. Anderson
A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other.
Photo R. Anderson

While I cannot speak for the Cactus League Ballparks on the list I do have extensive bleacher and box seat time in the Grapefruit League so I feel pretty confident in commenting on those facilities.

The oldest Ballpark still in use, McKechnie Field, in Bradenton, FL is the long-time home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and ranked fourth on the list.

For historical factors alone I would have moved it up into the top 3 but I suppose fourth place is not too bad considering it comes in as the second Grapefruit League Ballpark.

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll. Photo R. Anderson
Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll.
Photo R. Anderson

As far as fifth and sixth place go I would swap the Philadelphia Phillies’ Clearwater based Ballpark, Bright House Field with the Baltimore Orioles’ Sarasota home at Ed Smith Stadium.

In full disclosure I have only driven by Bright House Field so perhaps it is nicer on the inside than a quick glance down the highway shows but for my money it is hard to beat the old Ballpark charm of Ed Smith Stadium.

Ed Smith Stadium also features an air conditioned restaurant which allows fans a chance at a sit down meal before heading back to catch the action on the field.

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985. Photo R. Anderson
Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985.
Photo R. Anderson

The 10th ranked Ballpark on the list is in danger of no longer hosting Spring Training games in a couple of years. With the Houston Astros exploring locations in West Palm Beach, FL their days at Osceola County Stadium seem numbered.

It will be a shame if the Astros leave the Spring Training home they have had since 1985 for greener pastures since according to the pollsters the fields of Kissimmee, FL are already pretty green.

Granted Osceola County Stadium is an older facility but with older Ballparks making the Top 10 it shows that older is sometimes better in the eyes of the ticket buying fans.

For completeness the entire Top 10 Spring Training facilities, according to the readers of USA Today, is included below along with the Major League Baseball teams that call them home. Ballparks I have visited are listed in bold. Ballparks with an asterisk beside them are among the Ballparks I plan to visit next March.

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home. Photo R. Anderson
Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home.
Photo R. Anderson
  1. Charlotte Sports Park – Port Charlotte, Fla. Home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
  2. Goodyear Ballpark – Goodyear, Ariz. Home of the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds.
  3. Salt River Fields – Scottsdale, Ariz. Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
  4. McKechnie Field – Bradenton, Fla. Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.*
  5. Bright House Field – Clearwater, Fla. Home of the Philadelphia Phillies. *
  6. Ed Smith Stadium – Sarasota, Fla. Home of the Baltimore Orioles.
  7. Tradition Field – Port St. Lucie, Fla. Home of the New York Mets.
  8. Cubs Park – Mesa, Ariz. Home of the Chicago Cubs.
  9. JetBlue Park – Fort Myers, Fla. Home of the Boston Red Sox.
  10. Osceola County Stadium – Kissimmee, Fla. Home of the Houston Astros.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Rays’ Rivalry with Rangers is Young but Intense

For Sherlock Holmes, it was Professor James Moriarty.

For the Hatfields, it was the McCoys.

For Inigo Montoya, it was the Six-fingered Man

For Superman, it was kryptonite.

For Batman, it was the Joker

For the New York Yankees, it was and forever will be the Boston Red Sox.

History and literature are full of examples of epic rivals facing off.

Usually the best of these rivalries occur when both parties are equally matched and either one could secure victory on any given day.

Over the past four seasons the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers have been familiar rivals in the quest for the postseason. Both teams are currently tied atop the American League Wild Card standings. Photo R. Anderson
Over the past four seasons the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers have been familiar rivals in the quest for the postseason. Both teams are currently tied atop the American League Wild Card standings.
Photo R. Anderson

For the past three years another rivalry has been quietly building between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays.

For those who question the Rangers and Rays as rivals consider this, the path to the postseason for each team for three of the past four seasons has come down to a battle between them.

In 2010 the Rays faced the Rangers in the American League Division Series and lost two games to three.

In 2011 the Rays once again found themselves facing the Rangers in the Division Series and this time only managed a single victory in the series.

Although the Rays were defeated by the Rangers in two consecutive years they can take some solace in the fact that the Rangers went onto the World Series both years. After all, somehow losing to the eventual pennant winner provides some small comfort.

Both teams were shut out of the postseason in 2012 which brings us to this season. Currently the Rays and the Rangers are battling each other for the top seed in the wildcard race.

After splitting a four game series in Tropicana Field this week the Rays and the Rangers remain tied for the top Wild Card spot.

It is highly probable that the Rays and Rangers will meet in the winner takes all Wild Card game this year marking the third time in four years that the road to the World Series runs through them.

So while the Rangers and Rays have not been rivals for as long as some of the historic rivalries in sports, it should certainly not be discounted in terms of intensity.

And while one could argue that the Rangers’ true rival should be their American League West Division opponent, and neighbor to the south Houston Astros, they would be wrong.

The Rays and Rangers offer a battle between two teams that were near the bottom of the standings for much of their existence before finding a winning formula for success late in the last decade.

The fact that each team went through so many losing seasons makes them even hungrier to continue their current success which just so happens to intensify the rivalry more than any games against an in state rival such as the Astros or Marlins would provide.

There are also some connections between the two teams beyond their recent success that may not be so obvious at first glance.

Hall of Famer Ted Williams was the first manager in Rangers' history after they moved from Washington D.C. where they were known as the Senators. Photo R. Anderson
Hall of Famer Ted Williams was the first manager in Rangers’ history after they moved from Washington D.C. where they were known as the Senators.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams served as manager of the Washington Senators and continued in that role for a single season after the team relocated to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas to become the Texas Rangers.

The Ted Williams Baseball Museum is located inside of Tropicana Field which just so happens to be the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

In addition to the Ted Williams connection there are many players who have been associated with both the Rangers and the Rays leading to a familiarity of sorts.

During the 2010 and 2011 playoffs former Ray Josh Hamilton helped lead the Rangers to victory. I am sure there were quite a few times when the Rays had wished that they still had him on the team.

Although he once managed the Rangers the Ted Williams Museum is located inside Tropicana Filed the home Ballpark of the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson
Although he once managed the Rangers the Ted Williams Museum is located inside Tropicana Field, the home Ballpark of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

This year it is Matt Garza former Rays pitcher turned Rangers pitcher that will look to eliminate his former team from the playoffs.

The Rays have four games against the Orioles at Tropicana Field before heading to New York for a three-game set with the Yankees. The Rays will end the regular season in Canada with a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays. There is little room for error for the Rays if they want to cling to that Wild Card spot as the Orioles are nipping at their heels and could take the Wild Card spot depending on how the head to head games go.

The Rangers have a slightly easier path in theory when it comes to them holding onto their Wild Card spot with three games on the road against the Kansas City Royals before returning to the Ballpark in Arlington for three games against the Houston Astros and four games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But of course anything can happen on any given day which is why the games are played. This year is shaping up once again to be one of those down to the wire seasons where all of the postseason spots won’t be filled until the last out is recorded.

While it is yet to be determined how this season will end in terms of the Rays and Rangers one can definitely not deny the young rivalry that seems destined to last for years to come as both teams battle each other year after year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to pray for a miracle sweep of the Rangers by the Astros to help the Rays secure home field advantage.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

A Tale of Two Cities in Four Days Following a Black and Orange Bird

I have been a baseball fan for a long time but last Thursday I did something that I hadn’t done in three decades of fandom and also did a few things that I had never done before.

As mentioned before the first Major League Baseball game I ever attended was a Baltimore Orioles home game at Memorial Stadium in 1983.

Since then I have seen numerous Orioles Spring Training games over the years in ballparks all across Florida. But for 30 years I had not seen the Orioles play in a game that counted in the regular season standings. I had also never seen them play in a regular season game outside of Charm City.

The Baltimore Orioles came to Minute Maid Park and a 30-year drought was ended. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles came to Minute Maid Park and a 30-year drought was ended.
Photo R. Anderson

When this year’s MLB schedule was released and I saw that the Orioles were coming to Houston to play the Astros, it was a no brainer that I would circle one of those games on my must watch list for the season.

That lucky three decade drought ending game was Thursday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. Of course, I did not just end the 30 year drought with one game in one city.

No, no. I went one step further in true go big or go home fashion and saw the Orioles in St. Petersburg, FL as well when they wrapped up a series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

So in the course of four days I ended a 30-year drought with not one, but two, games in two different cities in two different states.

So let us compare and contrast the two ballpark experiences starting first with the Orioles and their visit to Minute Maid Park.

Four days after seeing the Orioles in Houston it was time to travel south and see them in Florida but unlike previous times watching the team in Florida this game counted. Photo R. Anderson
Four days after seeing the Orioles in Houston it was time to travel south and see them in Florida but unlike previous times watching the team in Florida this game counted.
Photo R. Anderson

Selecting a day game to see the Orioles was an easy choice to make as I try to attend one day game a season. Thursday was this year’s selection for that honor.

I enjoy day games for multiple reasons, but two in particular rise above the others. The first reason of course is that it just seems down right fun to be sitting at a ballpark watching a game while the majority of the world is working.

The second thing that makes day games so much fun is that they have smaller crowds on average (see reason one as a probable cause) which tends to mean better odds to catch a ball during batting practice.

For the past three years I have caught a ball at all of the day games I have attended. So it was that experience that had me feeling fairly confident that my luck would continue this year when I went to see the Orioles visit the Astros.

I arrived at the gate shortly after it opened and made it to my seat in front of the short right field porch. Sadly when I surveyed the field I noticed that batting practice was not going on.

At first I thought that it was just starting later than usual but then I realized that none of the tell tale signs of batting practice were on the field. I would not get to continue my streak of catching batting practice balls. I know I can always add another day game later in the season but I thought that it would have been nice to catch a ball from one of the Orioles.

The game itself was nice once the disappointment of no batting practice subsided. The Orioles ended up with the victory and although I did not go home with a ball I could be consoled by the fact that I saw a victory by the first team I ever rooted for.

The Ted Williams Museum inside Tropicana Field is well worth checking out. Photo R. Anderson.
The Ted Williams Museum inside Tropicana Field is well worth checking out.
Photo R. Anderson.

My Orioles karma continued Sunday at Tropicana Field, as did my string of missing out on batting practice.

As was the case earlier in the week the Orioles were victorious although the Rays definitely went down swinging.

In both instances I was conflicted somewhat regarding who to root for since all three teams are in my stable of teams that I follow.

But in most case during head to head match ups I will tend to pull for the Orioles. So in that sense I saw two Orioles victories in four days and was happy.

Tropicana Field is also home to a Ted Williams museum which is a must stop for any visitor to the ballpark. Admission to the museum is included as part of admission to the game and allows fans to see various artifacts from both Ted Williams as well as artifacts from the earliest Rays season.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to think of some other long droughts to end while I am one such a roll.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson