Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Damon Effect

I have always been fascinated when I see veteran athletes – particularly those who are older – perform at a high level. The great Satchel Paige was 59 years old when he pitched in a game in 1965 for the Kansas City Athletics. In 1991, Nolan Ryan tossed a no-hitter at age 44 for the Texas Rangers. Brett Favre had the best statistical season of his NFL career at age 40 with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009.

Here in Tampa Bay, it has been a privilege to watch the ageless Johnny Damon play for the Rays. Clearly a future Hall of Famer, Damon has had countless clutch hits for his team. Recently, he was hitting .417 with the bases loaded this season before launching a three-run, bases-clearing double that was inches shy of being a grand slam.

Damon is 37 years old. He will turn 38 on November 5. Although he can’t quite compare age-wise to players like Rickey Henderson or Jamie Moyer who played well into their 40s (and maybe he’ll be there someday), it is still incredible to see a guy who has played in the big leagues since 1995 continue to get it done at such a high level.

Damon has never been outspoken when talking to the media. But you have to believe that he has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse since joining the Rays. In fact, it was reported early in the season when the team was struggling that Damon arranged a team meeting to talk about how the players needed to relax a bit because they were pressing too much at the plate. The team responded and subsequently set a record for going from worst to first in the AL East in such a short period of time. For an athlete at his age to step into a new and unfamiliar clubhouse and take on the role it appears he has is also a testament to how great a player – and human being – Damon really is.

The Rays had Wade Boggs. They had Fred McGriff. Someday, Carl Crawford will likely be in that category of greatness. But it is hard to argue against the fact that Johnny Damon may be the best baseball player to ever don a Rays uniform. He has two World Series rings, one with Boston and the other with New York. If he stays healthy and maintains that natural baseball instinct, wouldn’t it be something if he added a third ring to his hand in Tampa Bay?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Journalism and change

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 AEJMC conference in St. Louis. Basically these conferences are a gathering of journalists, professors, and others who have some kind of footprint in the journalism and mass communication world. The main reason I attended was to present a research paper I did with a professor over the past year. The paper is called “Why your grandpa is on Facebook: A Survey of Uses and Gratifications of Facebook by Older Adults.” In simple terms, this study looked at why people over age 45 use Facebook. The main two reasons were for entertainment purposes (to play games) and for social interests (viewing others’ profiles).

But enough about me and my work. There has been so much discussion about how journalism is in trouble these days. Fortunately after attending this conference, I came away with a different impression. There were so many people there it was hard to tell that there was any problem at all – or even any shortage of journalists. From educators to professional journalists, it seemed as if everyone had a positive attitude about an industry that has endured more cutbacks and changes than almost any other industry in the world.

The main point people should understand is that journalism is not “in trouble” – it’s changing. Whenever change occurs, some people panic. The status quo is no longer so and suddenly things are different. Get used to it, though. Sometimes change is for the better. Even though thousands of journalists have lost their jobs in recent years, other kinds of jobs are beginning to open up for them, especially in online media. is a venture that comes to mind. Launched in December 2007, this website consists of hyperlocal pages devoted to news coverage in communities across the country. Each site has its own editor-in-chief along with a slew of freelance reporters. Perhaps many of these individuals once worked for “traditional” news organizations. In my view, Patch has become about as traditional as anything today.

So just remember that journalism is in flux. It may always be that way due to how quickly new technology takes hold. But once this constant change becomes normal, if it hasn’t already, most people will realize what the new definition of journalism really is.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rays rookies making a splash in 2011

No, that splash sound you just heard isn’t a 250-pound man leaping into a swimming pool. It’s the sound of several Tampa Bay Rays rookies making a splash this season.

Since Stuart Sternberg’s group purchased the Rays over six years ago, the team has had one of baseball’s top farm systems. The club has produced some of the most talented young players who have already made their mark in the big leagues.

Here are a few guys who, in just a short time, have proven to be major-league caliber players this season:

1) RHP – Jeremy Hellickson
Aside from James “Complete Game” Shields’ tremendous turnaround this year, Hellickson has arguably been the second best pitcher for the Rays in 2011. As a baby-faced 24-year-old, he became the first 10-game winner in the rotation. Earlier in the season, he had a stretch of 14 consecutive innings without allowing a run and also notched a slim 1.36 ERA for the month of May. He currently sports a 10-7 record with a 3.15 ERA. Hellickson truly has a chance to become Tampa Bay’s ace someday assuming the organization hangs on to his talents.

2) RHP – Alex Cobb
Most Rays fans had likely never heard of Cobb until he was called up for a start on May 1 due to an injury in the rotation. He was involved in a no-decision in an outing against the Yankees during which he allowed just two runs on three hits. He also struck out nine in a road game against the Mariners. More impressively, he never suffered a loss in his first seven major-league starts – a rare record for a rookie. Cobb has a 2.79 ERA with twice as many strikeouts as walks.

3) OF – Desmond Jennings
In high school, Jennings played baseball as a centerfielder, basketball as a guard and football as a receiver, QB and defensive back. He was a Division I prospect in all three sports (according to Rays beat writer Marc Topkin). These talents seem very similar to former Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, who is arguably the greatest player in franchise history. He has already made his mark by hitting .354 with two triples, three homers and a solid .708 slugging percentage. Rays TV broadcaster Dewayne Staats has called Jennings a “special player.” He is already living up to that description.

4) C – Robinson Chirinos
Perhaps the name Robinson just sounds like a good baseball name because of some of the greats who have had it. Although he has only seen action very recently, Chirinos has already put himself in the category of one of Tampa Bay’s most exciting catchers after recording the game-winning hit against Toronto in the 12th inning on Aug. 4. The Venezuela native spent over a decade in the minors before getting an opportunity with the Rays this year. In 13 games, he has a .273 ERA with a homer and six RBI. Rays fans can only hope he’ll provide more offensive production than any catcher they’ve used this year – or maybe ever.