Thursday, April 17, 2008

Call me the 40-Year-Old Uncle

Welcome to motherhood, Sis.
Sincerely, Uncle Jeff

My sister Melissa and her hubby Paul welcomed little Luke Franklin Starke into the world on Tax Day, ironically just around the time Jason Varitek hit a game-winning homer for the Sox (coincidence? I think not), making me an uncle for the very first time at the tender age of 40.

Not that this is an exceptionally unusual occurrence, but the funny thing about it is that my 11-year-old son has been an uncle for almost three years now, giving him a considerable head start in the uncle biz over his old man.

But like I always say, better late than never, and with that in mind I am quite proud to join the club that includes these notable participants:

-Uncle Buck
-Uncle Cracker
-Uncle Miltie
-Uncle Sam
-Uncle Albert
-The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

-Uncle Fester
-Uncle Ben

-Uncle Tony (shout out!)

but not including a monkey's uncle.

Because my cute new nephew looks nothing like a monkey.

Although I'm not so sure his uncle doesn't!

Congrats Meliss and Paul. I love you both, and all I can say is...



Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's the new Rays of Tampa Bay

New unis, new colors, new players and a new vibe in downtown St. Pete

So the fam and I went to the Rays game today for my son's Little League day at the Trop, and what I saw was a lot of exciting new changes and very little of the same old, same old Devil Rays attitude that permeated the last decade+ at the giant concrete cylinder in St. Pete.

The first thing you notice when you walk up the antiquated tile walkway that leads to the rotunda is the new mural that adorns the front of the building. Bright and colorful and bursting with that Ray of light, it beckons like a giant welcome sign pleading with fans to come see what's inside.

Trouble is once you step inside you are quickly reminded that the Dome is still the Dome, no matter how much paint you slap on the place, and it's a grim reminder that baseball was meant to be played outdoors, not inside a giant air-conditioned grain silo.

And suddenly the irony of the Rays utilizing a sunburst logo becomes amusingly obvious.

Until you look around the place and see all the signs, artists renderings and videos touting the proposed new waterfront stadium the Rays brass has been pushing for the past several months, and then it becomes apparent that the logo is a not-so- subliminal hint that yes, one day this team will live to play in the light of day.

If the team can get $400 million dollars from the taxpayers for an outdoor stadium that will expose the team and its patrons to the uncomfortable midsummer conditions of South Florida.

And suddenly the silo doesn't seem so bad.

As far as the team goes, as soon as you look at the starting lineup you are reminded that the changes have not just been cosmetic ones. The starter on the day is highly-touted 2004 draft pick Jeff Niemann, a long (6'9") lanky right hander who the team hopes will be one of the cornerstones of a young stud rotation, along with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and fellow hot prospect David Price.

On the field the lineup is as good as many teams in the league: All Star Carl Crawford mans left; future All Star BJ Upton, who blasted a key homer in this game, covers a ton of ground in center; and they have a couple of terrific corner infielders - 2007 MVP candidate Carlos Pena, who has already slammed 6 homers after hitting 46 last year, and potential 2008 Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria, who was just brought back from the minors after a controversial late spring demotion, looks like a franchise player at third.

The problem with the Rays is the same one that has been plaguing the team for the last decade: pitching. Most of the staff is too young (see above mentioned starters, plus Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine), too old (setup man and taser target Al Reyes and closer Troy Percival, whose arm could fall off at any time), or just plain mediocre (all the rest.)

And therein lies the problem of why this team will be better, but not nearly good enough to contend for a playoff spot for a few years. They desperately needed to acquire a decent veteran arm to anchor the young staff and provide experience in the battles against the top tier clubs, especially now with 2007 strikeout king Kazmir shelved with arm troubles.

And until they do, plus upgrade the bullpen from the current collection of has beens and never was', this team will be exciting, teasing and sometimes pleasing, but not good enough to take it to the next level.

So its okay to buy the new color gear (which fans are doing in droves), get on board the bandwagon early, support the young studs and watch the team grow from a cellar-dwelling laughingstock to an up-and-coming contender.

Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

Maybe by the time they get into that new stadium.