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PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - MARCH 18, 2009: This is the first year the Tampa Bay Rays have played their spring training games in Port Charlotte. The stadium was the home of the Texas Rangers, but they decamped for Arizona, leaving the Rays to take over their ballpark.
There were signs up everywhere promoting the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Tampa's new high-A minor league team. Before they were the Stone Crabs, they were the Vero Beach Devil Rays. And before that, they were the Vero Beach Dodgers. In 2000, young Bubba Crosby played there. (He griped in his blog about how hot it was. Given that he's from Houston, it must really be hot there.)
All in all, I didn't care for this ballpark. They aren't set up to handle the traffic. The cops basically shut the highway down on game day, which causes mass confusion and incredible traffic jams. The signage leaves a lot to be desired, too.
Or maybe I'm just grumpy because, for the first time in my baseball photographing experience, they wouldn't let me bring my camera bag into the ballpark. The guy at the main gate said it was too big, and turned me away. (It was about a quarter of an inch too wide.) He was rather rude about it, too.
In the end, I did get in. With camera gear. Let's just say that the people manning the other gates were not as anal.
Little Rey-Rey seems to like it in Port Charlotte more than I did. He had a pretty good day at the office.
Former Red Ray Olmedo in the Rays dugout.
The game was sold out, but I got a ticket at the box office. They said it was a seat reserved by a player, and released at game time because the person he got it for decided they didn't want the ticket. By most people's standards, it was an excellent seat. By mine, not so much.
I was sitting almost directly behind home plate, in the first row above the concourse. It was nice to have no one sitting in front of me. The seat was large and comfortable, with a cupholder and plenty of legroom.
But I hate sitting behind home plate. It's lousy for photography. You see only the backs of the batters, and the umpire blocks your view of them anyway. This seat was at exactly the wrong distance from the net as well. Closer or farther away, and the camera autofocus would ignore the net. But where I was sitting, it kept focusing on the net. I had to turn the autofocus off, which was interesting. It was a different experience. I really had to think about where the action was likely to be, and focus there ahead of time.
My seat was a very good one for watching the pitchers. In fact, there were four scouts sitting beside me. At least, I think they were scouts. They kept detailed notes on each pitch thrown; they even had their own radar guns.
They were scouting only the Reds pitchers. They put down the pencils and the radar guns when the Rays were pitching. (I overheard the one next to me complaining that Volquez wasn't throwing any sliders.) Not sure what teams they were scouting for, but one of them had a Dodgers bag.
Jason Hammel was the starting pitcher for the Rays.
Dickerson singles in the first.
I didn't think Voltron was at his best for this game, but afterwards, as I walked to the parking lot, I heard some Rays fans talking about what a great pitcher he was. They didn't seem to know who he was, but they were impressed with what they saw.
EdE blowing bubbles at third base.
And beats the throw to first base...
...by a mile.
Jared Burton took over in the fourth inning.
Bray took over in the sixth.
He had a pretty terrible outing: three hits, six runs, and two walks in only 2/3 of an inning. But only one of the runs was earned, thanks to a brutal Keppinger error.
Former Yankee Morgan Ensberg reached on the error. Two singles later, and he's sliding into third.
EdE tries to sell the tag...
But Blue isn't buying it.
Troy Percival got a warm welcome from the fans.
Arthur Rhodes pitched the sixth.
Dioner Navarro, the guy the Yankees traded for Randy Johnson. Since they don't need a catcher or anything...
When I last saw Ray Olmedo, he was a Phillie. He's now a Tampa Bay Ray.
Then stole third base.
But Pedro Viola struck out the next two batters, stranding Olmedo.
Adam Rosales hit a two-out triple in the ninth, but Little Rey-Rey ended the game with a flash of leather. Jacque Jones smoked one up the middle, but Olmedo got to it and threw it to 1B in time to get the last out.
Final score: Rays 7, Reds 3.