Thursday, 20 November 2008

Tampa Bay's other Joe

Possibly the best thing about watching sports live is the connection you feel to the players. You can almost feel like you're part of the team. My current seats at Southampton football games (for when I am actually back down south) are no more than 10 yards from the edge of the pitch. When I shout, the players (and the referee/linesmen!) can hear. I mean sure, I know that they're not going to take any notice of me, but they can hear. And when you're that close, watching them all season long, you get to know them. Not in a personal, go and have a chat way, but you get a feel for their personality, their style - basically of who they are.

Its something you just don't get from watching on TV. And thats what I find sometimes about the Rays. As much as I love watching them, and as badly as I want them to do well, I don't have that connection to the team that comes with seeing them live.

The wonderful thing though about watching baseball on TV is that you can get a connection. Not to the players or the manager, but, thanks to local TV stations showing virtually every game, to the broadcasters. And for me - and no doubt many other Rays fans - that link has always been Todd Kalas, Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane.

To me, they are as big a part of Rays baseball as anyone who puts on their glove and takes the field.

And as far as I'm concerned, not only are they Rays institutions, they're among the very best in the business.

Which is why I'm doubly saddened with the news announced earlier this week that in 2009, for the first time ever, Joe Magrane will not be calling the Rays.

Its sadness on an entirely selfish level of course - Joe has been hired by MLB network, a fantastic opportunity for him to put his outstanding analytical and personable skills to use in front of a far larger audience (potentially) than he has for Rays games. I'm sure he will do fantastically - he is a brilliant broadcaster - and I do of course wish him the best of luck.

But, at the risk of sounding incredibly cliched, it does make me want to cry out, "say it ain't so, Joe?"

I know from experience, from the time (a few months? It seems more) before offered both the home and away feed, that not all broadcasters are created equal. Some can be patronising, some can be ignorant and ill-informed, and some can be just downright annoying. But Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane are none of those things. They are entertaining, informative and - something that is too easily overlooked - talk to the viewers, and not at them. I'm piling up the cliches at a rapid rate now, but watching the Rays with them is honestly like inviting a couple of friends into your house.

Now, as far as I know, the legend that is Dewayne Staats is staying on. As is "the strapping young lad" Todd Kalas. And no doubt a new man will come in, and in his own way be entertaining and informative. And we'll still have Staats' to guide us through the action.

But Rays baseball without Dewayne and Joe in the booth - well, for me at least, its never going to be the same again.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Joe's the boss

One more piece of silverware for the Rays in this remarkable season. And the one that is, without question the most deserved. Ok, sure Evan Longoria was head and shoulders above the other rookies, and Carlos Pena was virtually automatic with the glove down at first base.

But if either of those two prizes had gone elsewhere, you could just about have understood it. I mean other first basemen played their position well, and other rookies did have good years. But the manager of the year award?

Well, there was nobody in baseball quite like Joe.

He took the Major League's biggest joke, and turned it into a confident, can-do, must-see team.

He took ten years of losing - and losing badly - and turned it into a World Series place.

He took the league's worst record, and turned it into top spot in the toughest division in baseball.

Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays, American League Manager of the Year.

I like how that sounds.

For once, I'm not going to ramble on about why he deserves it, and the miracles that he has performed for us this year. Instead, I'm going to quote this article from by Mike Bauman. I don't think I could possibly put it any better:
This was the kind of managing job that not only deserves an award, but also merits a textbook. This was a life lesson on how to turn failure into triumph, and in a hurry. Yes, Maddon is the American League Manager of the Year, but even that may be something of an understatement.

Joe said before the season began that 9=8. And then went out and proved it. And you know what, now there is no argument that the boss who wears 70 is number 1.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Longo, meet ROY

Ok, so not exactly surprising news, but it is exciting never-the-less. Tampa Bay have their first ever BBWAA award winner, and it is who else but Evan Longoria. He was named yesterday as the American League's first unanimous Rookie of the Year since 1997.

I hardly need to go over Evan's amazing stats, or indeed his intangibles. Suffice to say he has been the brightest spot in a whole sea of brightness for the Rays in 2008 and the award, for which he was favourite even before he had a major league at-bat, is massively well deserved. Even missing a month through injury, he still dominated all other rookies. And while I would want to take nothing away from the other rookies who received the second and third place votes - Alexei Ramirez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Aviles, Armando Galarraga, Joey Devine, Denard Span, Nick Blackburn, Joba Chamberlain and Brad Ziegler - they simply weren't in Evan's league in 2008. Mind you, nor were many established players.

I think it says something pretty special about Longo that, in his first season in the bigs, he has already been made the Rays' player rep by his teammates. If that doesn't say something about his maturity, and the shear respect that other players have for him, then I don't know what does.

Longo is a superstar. And long may that continue.

But for now Evan, enjoy the prize. You have certainly earned it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Carlos is Golden

And quite right too.

The firsts just keep on coming for the Rays, even after the season has ended - yesterday Carlos Pena claimed the first ever Gold Glove in Rays history for his outstanding work this year at first base. And although a lot of times the award seems to go to players who are not exactly known for their glovework (Rafael Palmeiro anyone?), Carlos is, in my mind, a truly deserving winner.

All year long, commentators from across the country have been describing Pena as "a Gold Glove-calibre" first baseman. Now they can describe him as a Gold Glover. Its not just the fielding he does himself, its the confidence that he gives to the other infielders. They know that if they can get the throw in his vicinity then, more often than not, he's going to dig it out and make the play. He has fantastic range, great hands, and can turn the 3-6-3 double play as well as anyone that I've ever seen. In short, its very well deserved.

And you know what, it could be the first of many for these Rays. I mean, look around the field and its hard to spot someone who doesn't have a chance of nabbing some gold in the future. Evan Longoria is as close to a dead-cert future winner as you will find, while CC is probably unlucky not to have one already. BJ Upton just needs to cut out a few sloppy plays, and he could get one, while Aki Iwamura must have been very close to winning in his first ever season at second. Hey, even Jason Bartlett and Dioner Navarro are above average defensively...