The Rays make Kevin Costner want to … sing?

September 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 3 Comments

It seems that we can count Kevin Costner among the legion of celebrities that are Tampa Bay Rays fans, joining Dick Vitale, Hulk Hogan, Brian Knobbs (one of the Nasty Boys, a wrestling tag team), and Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Costner has recorded a song about the Rays called It’s All Up To You.  I kid you not.  And it’s not half bad.  You can listen to it here.

Before he came out with the song, Costner had a couple of ties to the Rays:

  • His band, Modern West, performed at the official unveiling party for the team’s new name, logo, and uniforms last November.
  • Modern West also performed at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (home of the Rays’ Triple-A team) on July 4 of this year.  And of course, Kevin Costner played Crash Davis in Bull Durham, one of the best baseball movies of all-time, which is about the Bulls.

Seriously, I highly recommend checking out the song.  Even if you don’t care about the Rays, it’s pretty interesting to hear Kevin Costner sing…

While you’re at it, check out the official Rays theme song, Feel The Heat Rays, from a very talented Canadian band called Living Under Venus.  You can listen to it on their MySpace page.  It’s a great song and it’s played after every Rays home run at the Trop.  Fans of the Twins or the White Sox will be hearing a lot of it later this week!

The second song on their MySpace page is actually about the Toronto Blue Jays, so they’re clearly baseball fans.

Kevin Costner card that I recently received from Ryan of Trader Crack's Blog

Kevin Costner card that I recently received from Ryan of Trader Crack's Blog

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Magnificent Masterpieces

September 30, 2008 at 1:04 am | Posted in My Cards, Upper Deck | 7 Comments

Thanks to reader P.A. from Winston-Salem, NC, who sent me card #72 (Alex Rodriguez) in a trade, I have completed my set of 2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces!  This comes just one day before 2008 Masterpieces is officially released.

2007 Masterpieces has been one of my favorite sets to collect.  The set features paintings of 90 current and retired players on canvas-like card stock.  The framed parallels are pretty nice, the relic cards look good, and the autographs are great.  I pulled autographs of Josh Hamilton and Hunter Pence.  Even better, the autographs are on card!

So I’m eager to get my hands on a hobby box of the 2008 version of Masterpieces.  Hopefully Upper Deck can repeat the success of the 2007 set.  Here’s a look at the key card for me, Evan Longoria:

And in other news…

September 29, 2008 at 12:59 am | Posted in Baseball, Football | 6 Comments

2008 is shaping up to be the best year ever for the sport teams that I root for…

As is well-documented on this blog, the Tampa Bay Rays won the A.L. East and are going to the playoffs for the first time ever.

My alma mater, Penn State University, is off to a 5-0 start in college football, and they’ve vaulted up to #6 in the polls.  I didn’t know if they were for real before this week.  But then Oregon State (a team that we beat 45-14 a few weeks ago) beat USC on Thursday.  And in the first Big Ten game of the season, we beat a good Illinois team 38-24 on Saturday night.  We have to play Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road this year, and Michigan (who we haven’t beaten since 1996) at home.  It’s going to be tough, but it looks like this could be a very special season.

My favorite NFL football team, the Buffalo Bills, is off to a 4-0 start after beating the Rams 31-14 today.  Yeah, you could argue that they should have beaten the Rams by more than 17 point, but it’s a road win and I’ll take it.  The whole team is playing really well, and I’m starting to believe that the Bills will make the playoffs for the first time since 1999!

Today, I officially won both of the fantasy baseball leagues that I competed in this year.  Somehow I’ve managed to win about 95% of the leagues that I’ve been in over the last 5-6 years.  I guess my friends aren’t quite as fanatical about baseball as I am.  I’m hoping to start a fantasy league for baseball card bloggers next year to get some good competition.

If this trend continues, you can bet that the Carolina Hurricanes are going to be very, very good this year…

Becca and I at the PSU Lion Shrine in 2004

Becca and I at the PSU Lion Shrine in 2004

Good bye regular season, hello post season!

September 29, 2008 at 12:32 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | Leave a comment

Baseball’s regular season ended today, and for the first time in Rays history, it is not the end of the road.  With an 11-inning win against the Tigers today, the Rays finish the season 97-65!  That’s a 31-game improvement over last year’s 66-96 record.  Just because it shows you how astonishingly different this season has been, here’s a look at the team’s record in their first 10 seasons:

  • 1998: 63-99 (Last place in A.L. East, worst record in American League)
  • 1999: 69-93 (Last place in A.L. East)
  • 2000: 69-92 (Last place in A.L. East)
  • 2001: 62-100 (Last place in A.L. East, worst record in MLB)
  • 2002: 55-106 (Last place in A.L. East, worst record in MLB)
  • 2003: 63-99 (Last place in A.L. East)
  • 2004: 70-91 (4th place in A.L. East)
  • 2005: 67-95 (Last place in A.L. East)
  • 2006: 61-101 (Last place in A.L. East, worst record in MLB)
  • 2007: 66-96 (Last place in A.L. East, worst record in MLB)

Their first playoff game will be on Thursday, against either the Minnesota Twins or the Chicago White Sox.  The White Sox are 1/2 game behind the Twins and they play a make-up game against Detroit tomorrow.  If they win, they will face the Twins in a one-game playoff.  I don’t have a strong preference for who the Rays will face.  They were 3-3 against the Twins this year and 6-4 against the White Sox.  The fact that the Twins are another dome team would mean that the Rays would have less of a home-field advantage against them.  On the other hand, the White Sox have two really good lefties in their rotation (Mark Buehrle and John Danks) and the Rays sometimes struggle against lefties.  Either way, I can’t wait for Thursday!

Here’s a look at the final A.L. East standings.  Aren’t they beautiful?

[clearspring_widget title=”ESPN MLB Standings” wid=”4720c4525c0c19ff” pid=”48e05855a47297a6″ width=”300″ height=”387″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

And congratulations to the Milwaukee Brewers for clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 1982.  I’m thrilled that Prince Fielder’s team will be in the postseason.  It’s also great to see another small market underdog team make it.  I’m still rooting for a Tampa Bay vs. Milwaukee World Series!

Finally, it’s hilarious to see the Mets collapse in September again.  I’m happy that they missed the playoffs after how they treated Willie Randolph earlier this year.  Bad karma!

Champions!

September 27, 2008 at 3:16 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 1 Comment

The impossible dream has come true!  The Tampa Bay Rays are officially the 2008 American League East Division Champions!  Just one year ago, they finished the season with the worst record in all of Major League Baseball.  Today, they can call themselves champions of the best division in baseball, having triumphed over the two teams with the highest payrolls in baseball (the Red Sox and Yankees), the team with the best pitching in baseball (the Blue Jays), and of course, the team with the orangest uniforms in baseball (the Orioles).

We have to thank the New York Yankees, who beat the Red Sox tonight, 19-8, after the Rays lost to the Detroit Tigers earlier in the night.  The Yankees win clinched the division for the Rays.  I can’t wait for the playoffs to start next week!  Bring on the White Sox or the Twins!

In honor of the Rays’ achievement, I have updated the graphics on this site.  Prince Fielder is gone, replaced by Don Mattingly and Evan Longoria, the two players whose cards I most enjoy collecting, and a Rays championship banner.  I wish Prince good luck as I am rooting for the Brewers to win the N.L. Wild Card.  I would love to see a Tampa Bay vs. Milwaukee World Series…

Great cards from Rob (Voice of the Collector)

September 26, 2008 at 1:32 am | Posted in My Cards, Trades | 1 Comment

I don’t usually write posts about card trades that I’ve made; as a matter of fact, I haven’t written anything about most of the trades that I’ve made since I started this blog.  I know that a lot of other bloggers write posts about every trade that they make, and I hope nobody has taken any offense to my lack of trade posts.  I have made many great trades with several readers and other bloggers.  I’ve gotten some awesome Rays cards, Prince Fielder cards, Don Mattingly cards, and many cards to help me complete sets that I’m building.  Just today, I was able to complete my set of Upper Deck Series 1 as a result of a trade with a reader named Peter in High Point, NC.  And I should be getting the last card that I need to complete my 2007 Masterpieces set from another reader in the next few days.

But anyway, I think that in general, my readers aren’t all that interested in the details of every card trade that I make.  However, I do want to post about one particular trade that I recently made with Rob (a.k.a. “Guido”) from Voice of the Collector.  There are two reasons.  First, I really want to give a shout out to Rob for starting what I believe is one of the best card blogs out there.  Rob has risen to the task of pointing out many of the problems in today’s hobby, especially problems related to a certain troubled publication that shares its name with the Boston Red Sox ace.  But Rob doesn’t just focus on the negative; he has written many interesting and informative posts about current card sets and even some good fictional writing.

Secondly, not only did Rob send me some very cool cards, but he also included a very cool surprise that I wasn’t expecting.  Here are the cards that he told me he was sending:

  • 2008 SP Legendary Cuts Destination Stardom Memorabilia – Akinori Iwamura
  • 2008 Spectrum Swatches #/35 – Matt Garza
  • 2008 Topps Game-Worn Pants – Carl Crawford
  • 2008 Co-Signers blue parallel #/250 – Carl Crawford
  • 2008 Co-Signers blue parallel #/250 – Carl Crawford & Rocco Baldelli
  • 2008 Upper Deck Heroes – B.J. Upton
  • 2008 Upper Deck Heroes – Carl Crawford
  • (2) 2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History Timeless Moments #/699 – Prince Fielder

My favorite of these is the Aki relic card from SP Legendary Cuts, which I must say is one of the nicer looking sets of the year:

The surprise turned out to be a pack of 2008 Topps Big Stix.  These are 5×7 inch “cards” that are made up of multiple removable stickers.  I hadn’t seen any of these in person before, so I was excited to open the pack.  I noticed that the pack was partially opened, and I thought that maybe it had been invaded by a pack searcher.  The first thing I found when I opened the pack was a checklist.  I saw Evan Longoria’s name on it and thought about how great it would be to have a Longoria Big Stix card.  To my amazement, I found not only Longoria, but five different Rays:

  • Evan Longoria
  • Carlos Pena
  • Jonny Gomes
  • B.J. Upton
  • Carl Crawford

So I’m pretty sure that Rob had inserted all of these into the pack himself, which explains why it was partially opened.  Here’s the Longoria:

These Big Stix are a great addition to my Rays collection!

I sent 2008 Goudey relic cards of Aramis Ramirez and Mark Buehrle, a 2008 Upper Deck Kosuke Fukudome rookie, and complete team sets of both the Cubs and White Sox from 2008 Goudey to Rob.  And I’ll be sending a little something extra his way to thank him for his generosity.  Thanks Rob!

Whether you want to call him Rob or Guido, definitely go check out Voice of the Collector.

Another story about Brien Taylor

September 25, 2008 at 2:03 am | Posted in Baseball, My Cards | 9 Comments

Mario’s post about Brien Taylor tonight at Wax Heaven got me thinking about an encounter that I had with Brien Taylor 15 years ago…

As my readers know by now, I grew up as a Yankees fan.  I was a huge fan during the early 1990s when the Yankees were among the worst teams in baseball.  In fact, they finished with the worst record in all of baseball in 1990, which meant that they had the #1 overall pick in the 1991 draft.  With that pick, they took a high school left-handed pitching phenom named Brien Taylor.

To say that the Yankees starting pitching was horrible in the early 1990s would be a vast understatement.  In 1991 alone, they had starting pitchers with these ERAs:

  • Jeff Johnson – 5.95 ERA in 23 starts
  • Wade Taylor – 6.27 ERA in 22 starts
  • Tim Leary – 6.49 ERA in 18 starts
  • Dave Eiland – 5.33 ERA in 13 starts
  • Chuck Cary – 5.91 ERA in 9 starts

So you can understand how excited Yankees fans were to have Brien Taylor in the organization, who was rated the #1 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in 1992.  That year, he pitched for Single-A Fort Lauderdale and had a 2.57 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 187 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings.

Taylor was promoted to Double-A Albany-Colonie for the 1993 season.  Being a knowledgeable baseball fan at the age of 13 that summer, I knew exactly when the Albany team would be visiting Binghamton, New York, which was within a short driving distance from where my dad lived at the time.  I figured out when Brien Taylor would be pitching, and my dad took me to the game.

I was extremely excited to see the guy who I was sure would soon be the ace of the Yankees starting rotation in person!  I remember that Taylor didn’t pitch very well against the Binghamton Mets that day.  But my day wouldn’t be spoiled because I was planning to get his autograph outside the visitors locker room after the game.  I had my Brien Taylor draft pick cards with me, along with some minor league cards of various other players on Albany’s roster.

As the players came out of the locker room, they were all very friendly.  They were happy to see the group of about 10 Yankees fans that were gathered to try to get autographs.  I got a bunch of autographs that day, including an obscure catcher that had recently been called up from Single-A.  I think he was surprised that I even had a baseball card of him.

Brien Taylor was one of the last players to come out of the locker room.  His attitude was totally different from the rest of his teammates.  I remember that he was wearing sunglasses, and he didn’t say a word to me or the other fans as he briskly jogged towards the team bus.  I decided to run after him.  “Mr. Taylor, I’m a huge Yankees fan – could I please have your autograph”, I yelled out to him.  But it didn’t matter.  The 21-year old hot shot was determined to ignore all of the fans that day.

I was very disappointed, and I when I got home I put all of the cards that I did get autographed into pages in a binder and didn’t think about them much after that day.  After the 1993 season, Brien Taylor tore his labrum in a fight in his hometown, and his career was effectively over.  It couldn’t have happened to a bigger asshole…

Earlier this year, I was going through binders of old baseball cards in my attic, and I came across the binder in which I placed the cards that I had autographed at the game in Binghamton.  Most of the players whose autographs I received never made it to the major leagues.  But I did come across one guy that you may have heard of, that obscure catcher that nobody really cared about in 1993:

I think his career worked out a little bit better than Brien Taylor’s did…

Undervalued Auto: Nick Markakis

September 25, 2008 at 12:45 am | Posted in Baseball, My Cards | Leave a comment

Speaking of the Orioles, I was browsing eBay tonight, looking at card auctions that were within a few minutes of ending, and looking for good deals.  I was very surprised to see a 2008 SPX autographed card of Nick Markakis with a starting bid of $3.95 and no bids yet with three minutes left in the auction.  I put in a bid for a few bucks more than that, fully expecting that someone would snipe this auction and win it for about $10.  Amazingly, I won the auction and I’ll be getting the card for only $3.95 (and $2 for shipping) – less than the price of many packs!  Here’s the card that I won:

I knew that Markakis was underrated, but I didn’t realize that he was so severely underrated that his autographed cards were going for under $4.  Check out his stats over the last two years:

2007: .300 AVG, .362 OBP, .485 SLG, 23 HR, 112 RBI, 18 SB
2008: .303 AVG, .404 OBP, .490 SLG, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 10 SB (through 9/24)

All that from a guy who’s still only 24 years old.  Can you imagine the hype if he was playing in New York, Boston, or Chicago?  If I were building a MLB team from scratch, there are few players that I’d rather have than Nick Markakis!

Rays Magic Number: 1

September 25, 2008 at 12:18 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | Leave a comment

With three comeback wins in two days against the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays are 96-62 and their magic number is down to 1.  All that they need is one more win their next four games (at Detroit) or one Red Sox loss (vs. the Yankees) and they will be American League East champions for the first time in history!

In the last three games against the Orioles, the Rays came back from 2-0, 5-1, and 6-0 deficits.  Especially in the last two games, I really thought they would lose.  It’s very encouraging to see them come back the way that they have.  It also shows just how terrible the Orioles are right now.  It’s clear to me that they’re just phoning it in at this point and they’re thinking more about their off-season golf games than the baseball games they’re playing in September.

But cheer up, Orioles fans.  Your team actually reminds me a lot of the Rays.  The O’s have already won more games than the (Devil) Rays did last year.  Although things look bleak now, they have a bunch of good young players that are either in the majors now or will be soon.  A lineup built around Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters, along with pitchers like Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz gives them some real hope for the future.  Andy MacPhail has done a great job since he took over the team last year, and if Peter Angelos stays out of the way, the Orioles may very well turn things around and compete with the Rays for first place in the A.L. East in a few years!

As a matter of fact, if anyone out there is looking for a team start following as a fan, I’d highly recommend the Orioles.  As a Rays fan, I can tell you how incredibly fun it has been to start rooting for a team when they’re at rock bottom and watch them build their way up into a playoff team.  Believe me, it’s much better than jumping on the bandwagon of a team that’s already good!  Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Washington would also be good teams to start following now.  All of them have nowhere to go but up!

If you’re already an Orioles fan, be sure to check out Orioles Card “O” the Day to get your fill of Oriole card blogging.

And the Rays Team MVP is …

September 23, 2008 at 1:34 am | Posted in Baseball, My Cards, Rays | 1 Comment

One of the amazing things about the great season that the Tampa Bay Rays are having is that they really are a team with no superstars.  They don’t have a single hitter batting .300 or better and none of their pitchers has won more than 13 games.  The bullpen has been terrific, but the closer (Troy Percival) has been wildly inconsistent and sports an ERA of 4.74.  Almost every key player has spent time on the disabled list at some point, including: Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Troy Percival, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, and Jason Bartlett.  Through it all, the team just keeps winning.  There seems to be a different hero for every game.  It is one of those rare times in sports where every player truly cares more about the team’s success than his own.

It was within this context that the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America was tasked with selecting the Team MVP.

If you just look at the statistics, Carlos Pena would seem like a good choice.  He has a .378 OBP with 31 home runs and 100 RBI despite being on the D.L. for almost all of June.  You’d also have to consider this year’s Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who has 25 home runs and 82 RBI after spending most of August and September on the D.L.  Both would be good choices, but neither were chosen as Team MVP.  It might surprise you, but this years Tampa Bay Rays MVP is:

Shortstop Jason Bartlett.

If you’re not someone who watches the Rays regularly, it is probably hard to understand why Jason Bartlett was deservingly selected as MVP.  His offensive numbers don’t jump out at you: .282 batting average, 1 home run, 34 RBI, 20 stolen bases.  But to an avid Rays fan, Bartlett is clearly the right choice.  Here’s why:

  • The Rays won when Carlos Pena was injured, and when Evan Longoria was injured.  They haven’t missed Carl Crawford.  They were fine without Kazmir and Garza in the starting rotation.  But, there was one player who they really missed.  Remember when the Rays lost 7 games in a row and fell out of first place right before the All Star break?  That was when Jason Bartlett was on the D.L.
  • Bartlett is simply a spark plug.  He sets an example by hustling on every play and he’s the first guy to congratulate a teammate when they’ve made a great play.  Coming from outside the organization, he’s had a tremendously positive influence on his new teammates this year.
  • Bartlett is clutch.  When he comes to the plate in a crucial situation, Bartlett always comes through.
  • The reasons for the Rays’ drastic improvement this year have been pitching and defense.  Amazingly, the Rays offense will likely finish the season having scored fewer runs than they did in 2007 when they had the worst record in all of baseball.  But they will give up almost 300 fewer runs than in 2007.

    Bartlett has had more to do with the success of the pitching and defense than anyone on the team.  Shortstop is the most important defensive position in baseball.  Julio Lugo was an average defensive shortstop when he was with the team.  In 2007, the tandem of Brendan Harris and Josh Wilson was awful defensively.  Then they acquired Bartlett, who is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game.  The guy is like a vacuum cleaner out there.  His range is out of this world.  If you hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield against the Rays, you’re going to be out.  Bartlett has played a huge rule in improving the team’s defense.

    As a result, a countless number of balls that would have been base hits last year are outs this year.  And that has led to the magnificently improved pitching.  Not only is the defense making more outs for the pitching staff this year, but they have given them the confidence that balls in play will turn into outs.  In the past, The Rays’ pitchers thought that they needed to strike everyone out, which caused them to throw more pitches and walk more hitters.  Now they know that they don’t have to be too perfect, and the fielders will do their job behind them.

Here’s my collection of Jason Bartlett autographed cards.  Most of them show him with the Twins, the team that foolishly traded him away (along with Matt Garza) to get Delmon Young and his 9 home run power:

2004 Playoff Absolute Memorabilia #/500

2004 Playoff Absolute Memorabilia #/500

2005 Topps Gallery Penmanship

2005 Topps Gallery Penmanship

2005 Upper Deck Trilogy #/15

2007 Triple Threads #/99

2007 Triple Threads #/99

2008 Topps

2008 Topps

2008 Co-Signers w/ Ben Zobrist

2008 Co-Signers w/ Ben Zobrist

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