I am so happy right now. My favorite NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, just used their #1 pick to draft the best player from my college alma mater, Penn State, Aaron Maybin! Maybin was a red-shirt sophomore for PSU last year, and emerged as one of the most dominating players in college football after being given a chance to start for the first time. Maybin’s season was, in my opinion, the top season by a Penn State defensive end since my freshman year of 1997. That includes Courtney Brown, the #1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, Michael Haynes, and Tamba Hali, who were also first round picks.
This comes two years after the Bills drafted Paul Posluszny, one of the all-time greatest Penn State linebackers. Coupled with the addition of T.O., I am starting to get very excited about the upcoming football season! Hey, with the Rays getting comfortable in last place in the A.L. East, I need something to look forward to…
You can bet that I’ll be scouring eBay for Aaron Maybin autographs to add to my collection soon.
I’m sorry for the lack of posts recently. I’ll explain my absence and the future of this blog soon.
Today, I went to one of my favorite places in the entire universe, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, for the first time in 2009. The Bulls were supposed to play the Norfolk Tides, but unfortunately the game was rained out. But I’m not upset about the rain out, mostly because of an unexpected surprise. It turned out that the William Harridge Trophy that was awarded to the Rays for their 2008 American League Championship was present at the ballpark! Of course I posed with it, and here I am with the official symbol of the Rays championship:
Seeing the trophy in person was definitely one of the happiest moments of my life, and this immediately becomes one of my favorite photos. It was awesome for the Rays to share the trophy with their growing legion of fans in North Carolina. William Harridge, by the way, was the president of the American League from 1931 to 1958.
Due to the rain out, I’ll be attending tomorrow night’s game between the Bulls and the Tides. David Price, who was supposed to pitch tonight, will be pitching in that game. It’s the second time that I’ll get to see Price pitch in person this year. I also saw him pitch in the spring training game that I attended in Port Charlotte. And yes, the post about my spring training experience is coming very soon. Anyway, the Tides are the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, so I’ll also get to see Matt Wieters in action. It’s tough to beat seeing the top two prospects in baseball playing in the same game. And as an added bonus, I’ll get to meet another card blogger in person. Pete from Dropped Third Strike will also be at the game, along with his girlfriend Kim.
Since their amazing run to the 2008 World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays have parted ways with Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson, and Trever Miller. Today, they said goodbye to another member of the 2008 team, Jason Hammel, who was traded to the Colorado Rockies for a promising 21-year old minor league pitcher, Aneury Rodriguez. Hammel lost the battle for the 5th spot in the starting rotation to Jeff Niemann, who does have a much higher upside. Niemann was the #4 overall pick in the 2004 draft, he’s finally healthy after overcoming several injuries, and he’s proven all that he can in the minor leagues. However, he’s just keeping the #5 starter role warm for David Price.
Anyway, it’s sad to see Jason Hammel go. He’s responsible for one of my best all-time baseball memories. First, here’s some background. Hammel was the Rays’ 10th round pick in the 2002 draft, and he quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. By 2005, he was dominating in Double-A for the Montgomery Biscuits, and other than the injury-plagued Niemann, he was the Rays’ top pitching prospect. He completely overshadowed James Shields in the Montgomery rotation that year. He was promoted to Triple-A Durham at the end of 2005, and I remember excitedly making a trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch him pitch for the first time.
However, it was during the 2006 season that Hammel created the memory that will stay with me for many, many years. It was July 16, 2006, exactly two weeks after my wedding. My wife and I had recently gotten back from our honeymoon in St. Lucia, and we were busy sending out thank-you notes for wedding gifts and trying to return to normalcy after our whirlwind wedding and honeymoon experiences. I suggested that we go to the Bulls game that day, and we invited two friends of ours to come with us. The Bulls were playing the Columbus Clippers, who at the time were the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. I remember that it was a beautiful day for a baseball game. It was about 85 degrees with the sun shining, and we had great seats on the first base side. And Jason Hammel was on the mound.
Hammel was pitching brilliantly, and the Bulls took a 4-0 lead over the Clippers. Around the 4th inning, I commented that he hadn’t given up any hits yet, and I explained what a no-hitter was to my wife. I told her how rare it was and that I’d never seen one in person. The innings continued to go by, and Hammel continued to not allow any hits. I was beginning to think that this could be a truly special day. By the 8th inning, Hammel’s pitch count was getting high, and I could tell that he was laboring a bit more, but he continued to not give up any hits. After getting one out in the 9th, Bulls manager John Tamargo needed to take Hammel out of the game. After all, he was a highly regarded prospect, and this was the minor leagues. The Rays organization doesn’t like to take chances with potential injuries. Although many fans grumbled, Hammel got a loud standing ovation as he walked back to the dugout. Juan Salas entered the game in relief. Due to a combination of walks and errors, Salas did give up a run in the 9th, but he didn’t give up any hits. The Bulls won the game 4-1, and the no-hitter was complete! I was absolutely thrilled to have seen a no-hitter in person!
Hammel got his first shot in the major leagues at the end of 2006, and he split 2007 between Durham and Tampa Bay, becoming a fixture in the Rays starting rotation by the end of that season. In 2008, he was in the big leagues for good, starting out as the #5 starter, and then becoming the long man in the bullpen after Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza returned from the D.L. He proved to be an effective long reliever, but my favorite Hammel memory from 2008 came on September 10, in the heat of the pennant race at a game in Boston. The game went into the 14th inning before Carlos Pena hit a home run in the top of the 14th to give the Rays the lead. They exhausted the bullpen, using seven different pitchers, before giving the ball to Hammel in the bottom of the 14th to save the game. Hammel was accustomed to being a long reliever, but he was effective and picked up his first career save in an extremely crucial game.
I wish Jason Hammel nothing but success with the Rockies. I hope that he finds a way to pitch well in the thin air of Colorado. Here are some of my photos from that glorious day back in 2006…
I took the picture of the starting lineups as I was leaving the stadium. I figured that it would be interesting to look at the lineups years later to see who was in the game. The Bulls lineup was headlined by B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes, and it also included future Ray, Ben Zobrist. But take a look at who was hitting third for Columbus – Carlos Pena! Pena had fallen on hard luck after a few decent seasons in Detroit. He had been with Columbus all year, and he’d be released by the Yankees later that summer. He then signed with Boston, and he played for both Triple-A Pawtucket and the Red Sox at the end of the season before they released him too. The Rays picked up up from the scrap heap before the 2007 season, and he just barely made the team after an injury to Greg Norton. He went on to hit 77 home runs and drive in 223 runs for the Rays in 2007 and 2008, making it hard to believe that back in 2006, he was stuck in Triple-A on a team that was no-hit by his future teammate Jason Hammel!
So here we are, the night before Opening Day for the 2009 Major League Baseball season. This is the first Opening Day that I’ve had a blog. I always make predictions about every new baseball season, and it’s fun to have a public forum for posting my predictions for the first time. Now, at the end of the season, everyone will know exactly how incredibly horrible my predictions turned out to be…
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox
3. New York Yankees
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
The A.L. East is obviously the division that I follow most closely, and the one that I care about the most. Strangely enough, my predicted standings are exactly the same as the final standings in 2008. I’m sure that everybody knew that I’d pick the Rays to win it, but honestly, they’re still a young, improving team. I expect to see better seasons from Scott Kazmir (now that his his out pitch – his slider – is back), B.J. Upton (with a healthy shoulder, he’ll hit for much more power), Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena. Evan Longoria is only going to get better, and I expect David Price to give a boost to the rotation in May when he returns from Durham. I think that Matt Garza may break out as a Cy Young candidate, and I’m predicting that he’ll throw a no-hitter last year (he came close twice last year). I also think that the bullpen is improved with a healthy Troy Percival, and the new additions of Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse, Lance Cormier, and Jason Isringhausen (when he’s activated from the D.L.)
I believe that Boston is the second best team in MLB, and they’ll easily win the Wild Card. It’s going to be another great division race between the Sox and the Rays, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Boston ends up winning it. They’re likely to get at least some good contributions from all of their free agent signings (most likely from Saito and Penny) and they’ve got a ton of impressive young players. Look for Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson to break out. Clay Buchholz should also make an impact when he’s called up.
I’m less impressed with the Yankees. Sure, they added Teixeira, but now A-Rod is hurt, so the lineup isn’t improved – at least til A-Rod comes back. But that demonstrates a key point about the Yankees. Their roster is filled with old players who are injury prone. Lots of guys are going to spend significant time on the D.L. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sabathia and Burnett on the D.L. either. Burnett seems to get hurt almost every year, and Sabathia has thrown more innings than anybody over the last two years.
I’m picking Toronto for 4th, even though I really like the direction that Baltimore is going. Toronto quietly gave up the fewest runs in the A.L. last year, but they lost Burnett, and Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan are both hurt. Their rotation is very thin, but their bullpen is still very good. I’d take Baltimore’s lineup over Toronto’s, but I still think that Toronto’s pitching is better. Baltimore has some nice pitching prospects in the minors, but in the majors, their pitching staff is awful. Look for Matt Wieters to have a huge rookie year for the O’s and Travis Snider to have a huge rookie year for the Jays. They’ll be 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year voting.
American League Central
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals
Chicago’s still the best team in the Central in my opinion, but it’s a very weak division. Top to bottom, I like their lineup better than anyone else in the division, and they have pretty good pitching. John Danks could have a huge year. Minnesota has great pitching, but I’m not impressed with their lineup besides Morneau and Mauer (who is hurt for the first month of the season). The rest of the division is really, really bad. I’m picking Cleveland for third, but I don’t think they’ll win many more than 70 games. Their starting pitching is really bad, especially if Cliff Lee comes back down to earth this year. Two of their key players on offense, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, both seem to be on the down side of their careers. Detroit is similarly unimpressive, with a weak pitching staff and a lot of old guys in the lineup. Kansas City has some decent pitchers, but their lineup continues to be horrible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alex Gordon have a break out season, but that would still give the Royals only one really good hitter in their lineup.
American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers
The Angels are a worse team than they were last year, after losing Teixeira and having injury issues with three starting pitchers, but they’re still head and shoulders above the rest of the division. Oakland is an impressive young team, and the lineup looks pretty good with the additions of Holliday and Giambi. Their pitching is very young, but they have a lot of upside. Seattle is another team with some upside. They’ve got some good young pitching, and Erik Bedard can make a huge impact if he’s healthy this year. Texas continues to not have any good pitching, and I’m not as excited about their lineup as most people. Remember that Josh Hamilton saw a huge drop in production after the All Star break. Unless he returns to his first half form, their lineup looks a little weak.
American League Award Winners
MVP – Evan Longoria
Cy Young Award – Roy Halladay
Rookie of the Year – Matt Wieters
National League East
1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
The Mets can’t possibly collapse for a third year in a row, can they? With their significantly improved bullpen, I’d be surprised if they didn’t clinch the division a few weeks before the end of the season this year. They’re loaded with talent, and I think it’s about time for them to return to the playoffs. The Phillies are still a very good team, but I’m very unimpressed with the addition of Raul Ibanez, who’s a bad fielder, and yet another lefty in the middle of their lineup. Their starting pitching behind Hamels is pretty suspect, but that didn’t hurt them last year. I’m picking the Braves for third, mostly because the teams below them are pretty weak. I think they’ll be about a .500 team. They spent way too much money on an aging Derek Lowe. The Marlins have some underrated pitchers, but they’re still pretty young all around, and they’re a couple years away from contending. The Nationals are even further away, although Adam Dunn is a nice addition to their lineup. Their main focus should be signing Stephen Strasburg, and then building their team around him.
National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Cubs still have the most talent in the division, and it’s tough to see them not repeating. I think that the Reds will be much-improved. Their pitching looks pretty strong, and I really like a lot of their young players, especially Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. I believe that they’re good enough to win the N.L. Wild Card. I’d be very surprised if they don’t have a very good season. St. Louis is a solid third place team. There are some question marks in their starting rotation, but they’re an all around solid team. Milwaukee’s starting rotation looks pretty weak to me without Sabathia and Sheets, but Braun and Fielder lead what’s still a pretty good offense. Houston is old and fading, while the Pirates should be better. I give Houston an edge for finishing in 5th, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh finish as high as fourth if enough young players step up for them this year.
National League West
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Francisco Giants
5. San Diego Padres
I really like the Diamondbacks. As the Rays’ expansion brother, they’ve always been one of my favorite N.L. teams to watch. Webb and Haren are probably the top 1-2 punch on any starting rotation in baseball. The rest of their rotation and their bullpen is solid too. And their lineup includes many improving young players. I think that this is the year where Justin Upton will break out as a star, and I like Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, and Chris Snyder. Remember how good the D-Backs were last April? That’s how good I think they can be all year. The Dodgers will finish in second. They’re still a good team, but Manny can’t possibly be as good as he was at the end of last year, and their pitching isn’t that great. I like Billingsley and Kershaw, but there’s not much after them. The Rockies should be about a .500 team in 3rd place. The Giants have some nice pitching, but their lineup is a complete joke. The Padres are in rebuilding mode. With Peavy and Young in the rotation, they won’t be horrible, but I still think they’ll finish in last.
National League Award Winners
MVP – David Wright
Cy Young Award – Johan Santana
Rookie of the Year – Dexter Fowler
American League Division Series:
Rays over Angels
Red Sox over White Sox
American League Championship Series:
Rays over Red Sox
National League Division Series:
Mets over Reds
Diamondbacks over Cubs
National League Championship Series:
Diamondbacks over Mets
Rays over Diamondbacks in the battle of 1998 expansion teams!
So there you have it. Now everyone can laugh at me at the end of the season when I’m proven dead wrong. Or shower me with praise if any of my predictions come to fruition…
To all of my readers, I’m sorry for the lack of updates recently. I’ve been back from vacation for more than a week, but so far my only new post has been a solicitation to get people to join one of my fantasy baseball leagues. It’s true that I’ve been busy at home and at work, but the biggest reason for my lack of updates recently has been a decline in my interest in the baseball card hobby. I wish that I could point to a specific reason for this, but really it’s a combination of things.
For one, the release calendar for 2009 is filled with baseball card products that I could care less about. The only sets that I really care about at this point are Topps Heritage and Allen & Ginter, and I’m less enthused about even those products than I was last year. Over the last month or so, all that I’ve really cared about is adding to my Evan Longoria collection. I’m pretty sure that I’m done buying any boxes or packs of cards for the year, with the exception of Allen & Ginter.
Another factor is that my collection is literally a mess right now. Because I’ve spent so much time blogging, buying new cards, and making trades, I’ve spent virtually no time organizing my cards in the last several months. So I’m not very interested in making the mess worse right now. I need to spend a lot of time organizing the cards that I have, and probably getting rid of many cards that I don’t really want. I’ve started to realize the wisdom of collecting quality and not quantity.
So for the foreseeable future, I’ll only be adding Evan Longoria cards, and some cards of other Rays, to my collection. I’ve also decided to take down the “Trade Corner” page from my blog. I don’t want to make any more trades. I’ve lost most of my interest in building sets, and when people send me Rays cards, it seems like 90% of the time, it’s cards that I already have. Also, I simply don’t have the time anymore to put together packages of cards to send out to people. There are about 20 people out there who know this very well because they’ve been waiting a long time to receive cards from me. I do apologize to everyone who has been waiting to either receive cards from me or to receive responses to emails about card trades. If you’ve already sent cards to me and you’re waiting to receive something back, or if you’ve already sent me email to propose a trade, I will still send the cards that I owe you. I don’t want to screw anyone over. But in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I don’t want to make any new card trades at this point in time.
As the new baseball season starts, I think that you’ll start to see some significant changes to the blog. Expect to see less content about baseball cards, and more posts about the actual baseball season and fantasy baseball. I am very excited about the new season, and I’d much rather write about the actual games than about cards right now. When I do write about cards, it’ll be mostly about Longoria cards that I’ve added to my collection or other Rays.
I’d like to thank everyone out there who reads this blog, especially the people who have kept coming back over the last month even though there’s been very little new content. I hope that you’ll keep reading the blog in the future, even if I don’t write about cards as much as I have in the past. I think that it’s important for any blogger to write about the things that they’re most interested in and passionate about, and that’s what I intend to do…