February 2009

Traffic Problem Much Improved

The long lines of traffic on State Road 776 outside Charlotte Sports Park were gone Friday at the Rays’ second home game of the Grapefruit League Season.

After experiencing problems at Wednesday’s home opener, the Rays, along with officials from Charlotte County and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department, met for 45 minutes to address the problems.

“It’s much better today,” said Michael Kalt, Rays senior vice president, development and business.

Kalt complimented the work of both agencies by saying: “They’ve been great to work with from Day 1.”

The Rays more than doubled the staff to help eradicate the problem. Kalt also cited the learning curve by the team’s many season-ticket holders.

“People learn,” he said.

–Bill Chastain

Platoon in Right

Joe Maddon did not surprise anybody Thursday in Tampa when he said of the right field situation: “It’s pretty much going to be a platoon.”

Gabe Gross, Gabe Kapler, Justin Ruggiano, Matt Joyce and Fernando Perez are all a part of the equation right now.

The Rays manager said the reason it works is because no matter how it shakes out, the Rays will have a nice balance in right “because we play good defense.”

Maddon said all of the candidates understand the situation, but he noted that anybody could grow into a regular role.

–Bill Chastain

Traffic Will Be Better

The traffic heading into Charlotte Sports Park was bumper to bumper Wednesday, causing lengthy delays for fans hoping to attend the Rays’ opening game of the Grapefruit League season.

Michael Kalt, Rays senior vice president, development and business affairs, said opening a new facility compounded the problem since people were not familiar with procedures and the location. Other than the traffic problem — which Kalt allowed was a big problem Wednesday — everything else went well.

“There’s a bunch of things we can do [to correct the traffic problem],” said Kalt, who vowed  the traffic would be much improved on Friday when the Rays play their second home game of the spring.

In a nice gesture, the Rays bused all of their employees working in St. Petersburg down to Port Charlotte for the first game.

–Bill Chastain

Aybar Happy to Go to the Classic

Seeing Willy Abar’s name on the Dominican Republic’s roster for the World Baseball Classic came as a surprise Tuesday night since he wasn’t on the provisional roster released last month.

But all of a sudden the Dominican club found itself without Carlos Pena
and Albert Pujols, who could not play due to medical reasons,
so they needed a first baseman. And Aybar fit the bill.

Aybar seemed happy Wednesday.

“I’m happy,” Aybar said. “I’m proud to represent my country.”

While Aybar said he was surprised to be picked, his selection wasn’t totally out of right field as Aybar said he talked to Dominican GM Stan Javier last month and the possibility was mentioned.

Aybar will report to the Dominican camp in Jupiter, Fla. sometime next week. Other Rays players included on WBC rosters are Akinori Iwamura and J.P. Howell.
–Bill Chastain

Rays Lineup for the Opener

Joe Maddon announced his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener as follows:

Jason Bartlett, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Pat Burrell, DH
Willy Aybar, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Gabe Gross, RF
Fernando Perez, CF

Rays Have Open House

Charlotte Sports Park had a nice feel Monday morning.

The parking lot swelled with cars on a crisp day, music played, kids were busy on the playground, and the Rays worked out in front of the crowd estimated by the Rays to be 3,000 strong.

Count Rays manager Joe Maddon among those feeling the good vibe.

“There was a lot of energy in the practice,” Maddon said. “You looked at it, and right away my thoughts were about 2006. … The Rays gear, everybody knows everybody. The way they were just yelling out at our players. It’s part of the cultural change.”

Maddon said his club had great work in front of the loyal Rays fans.

“We did the rundowns in high energy, we did the base running in high energy … it was enjoyable,” Maddon said. “It was nice to have [the fans] out there.”
–Bill Chastain

Injury Update

The injury bug hasn’t bitten the Rays thus far, save for outfielder Matt Joyce’s sore right calf that will likely sideline him for a day or two.

“It’s just a little tweak,” Joyce said. “Just a little bump in the road.”

Joyce believes he simply over did some of his pre-Spring Training workouts and his right calf muscle paid the price. But he doesn’t believe it’s anything serious.

Meanwhile, Joe Maddon talked to B.J. Upton Sunday and the Rays’ manager said, “B.J. felt good.”

Upton had left shoulder surgery in November.  The Rays have not ruled out Upton opening the season in center field, but he is not ready for full workouts just yet.

Carlos Pena, who had surgery to repair tears to his lower abdominal muscles on both sides, feels great and said he’s actually having to remind himself to not go full out during workouts.

Reliever Chad Bradford, who had right elbow surgery, is still expected to be out until May.
–Bill Chastain

Head Games

Rays manager Joe Maddon had friend and sports psychologist Ken Ravizza at camp Saturday.

Ravizza helped Matt Garza with his composure last summer and Maddon would like him to work with the team on an ongoing basis. On the front burner, Maddon would like Ravizza to help players “debrief” from 2008, or helping them remember things they were thinking about when critical moments occurred. By doing so, they might be able to repeat or avoid certain behaviors or feelings.

During the offseason, Madden served as a guest lecturer at the Cal State-Fullerton professor’s stress management class and marveled at how well Ravizza’s students related to their professor.

“This is something we’d like to have for years to come,” Maddon said. “We want to have this available to players that need it, both Major and Minor leagues.”

–Bill Chastain

Longoria Feeling Better

Evan Longoria returned to practice Thursday a day after leaving practice early due to the lingering effects of having his wisdom teeth removed.

“It definitely helped out,” Longoria said. “Just one of those things where they felt it was just better for them to let me rest.  I feel better today.  It’s still there, but I talked to the dentist yesterday and it was kind of one of those things were there’s no cure for it. So you just kind of wait it out. Let the pain just heal itself, I guess.”

–Bill Chastain

New Slogan and a Parade

Joe Maddon unveiled his encore to last year’s popular 9=8 slogan during his talk to the players prior to Wednesday’s first full-squad workout. And this year’s slogan is (drum roll): ’09 better than ’08.

“I wanted to re-emphasize that nine will always equal eight in our math, but furthermore this year, ’09 is going to be better than ’08,” Maddon said. “And we want to hopefully be better by at least three games.”

The Rays will be the honorees of a parade Thursday afternoon in Punta Gorda.

The festivities will begin at 2:45 and the entire team is scheduled to attend the parade, which will start on West Marion Ave., head down Taylor St., and ultimately conclude at Quality
Self Storage on Taylor Road.

Immediately following the parade, there will be a “meet-and-greet” at Laishley Park, with interactive games for the kids, autograph signing, merchandise, baseball foods, sodas and beer.

–Bill Chastain