Gary Shelton - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

Bucs have prime-time games against Patriots, Falcons in 2017

They are coming up on their 10th year without a playoff game.

Still, the Tampa Bay Bucs have to feel as if they’ll be playing with the big boys in 2017.

The Bucs play a prime-time Thursday night game this year against the world-champion New England Patriots (Oct. 5), then later play a Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons (Dec. 18). The Bucs also play two games against the Carolina Panthers, the Super Bowl runners-up of two seasons ago.

Tampa Bay closes its season with three divisional games, the Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

The Bucs will play seven games against quarterbacks who were in the top 10 of the NFL in passing last year. They play two games against Drew Brees (first), two against Matt Ryan (second), one against Aaron Rodgers (fourth), one against Matt Stafford (sixth) and one against Carson Palmer (ninth). That doesn’t even count Tom Brady, who finished 20th after being suspended for four games. Still, most people acknowledge Brady as the best. Cam Newton, the league MVP in 2015, finished 21st with a bad shoulder last year.

2017 Bucs:

Sept. 10       at Miami

Sept. 17        Chicago

Sept. 24        at Minnesota

Sept. 31         New York Giants

Oct. 5             New England

Oct. 15           at Arizona

Oct, 22          at Buffalo

Oct. 29         Carolina

Nov. 5           at New Orleans

Nov. 12         New York Jets

Nov. 26         at Atlanta

Dec. 3            at Green Bay

Dec. 10          Detroit

Dec. 18         Atlanta

Dec. 24         at Carolina

Dec. 31          New Orleans Saints

Erasmo Ramirez gives the Tampa Bay Rays a reason to keep smiling

Most of the time, Erasmo Ramirez is smiling.

Sometimes, he makes other people smile, too.

Ramirez was terrific in his first start of the year Thursday, taming the Detroit Tigers in an 8-1 victory that completed a series sweep, their first since San Diego in mid-August of last season. Ramirez allowed only two hits – and one earned run – in the five innings he pitched. Chase Whitley went the three innings afterward and allowed only one hit, and Tommy Hunter finished up the ninth.

The Rays are now 8-2 at home on the season, averaging 5.4 runs per game.

It was a nice patchwork job, made necessary by the injury to Jake Odorizzi. Ramirez gave up a leadoff home run to Ian Kinsler but held the Tigers scoreless afterward.

The Rays had 11 hits, including three (and three RBI) from Steven Souza Jr. Kevin Kiermaier had two hits and two RBI. Souza now has 12 games of reaching base multiple times on the season, tying Anthony Rizzo of Chicago for the MLB lead.

“Great series,” said Rays’ manager Kevin Cash. “It was nice to bounce back. We had some timely hitting and took advantage of some mistakes. Anytime you’re able to jump on those it helps a lot, and we did that. Today, as far as Erasmo goes, both him and Whitley were outstanding.

“It’s funny with Erasmo starting and then getting back in the rotation, he decides he wants to be really efficient, and we have no problem with that. His stuff looked really good. It had a lot of late action, which was nice to see. How fortunate for us to have that coverage for when a guy like Jake goes down to be able to piece it together with those two guys. Good day. The bullpen was pretty taxed, so it was nice that we only had to use Whitley and Tommy after that.”

Cash took notice of Souza’s big offensive day.

“We all know Souza has all the tools in the world,” Cash said. “I think we are seeing him put it together a little bit. I know his relationship with Chad has been very beneficial. They talk back-and-forth constantly before the game, throughout the game. I think the biggest adjustment Steven has done is put himself in a position from pitch 1 where he’s ready to hit, and that’s helped him. He doesn’t have to hit the first pitch, but he’s ready to hit it if it’s something to his liking.”

Souza said the Rays are simply playing better at home.

“We’ve played a lot cleaner games at home, so far,” he said. “We played (seven) games on the road and are now at .500 baseball. Playing at Yankee Stadium and Fenway, those are two tough teams and two tough environments. I just think we’ve played clean baseball. Hopefully, at the end of the season, it all evens out.”

The Rays start their next series, against the Houston Astros, at home tonight when Alex Cobb faces Mike Fiers.

 

Rays capture strange victory over Tigers on misplayed grounder

Sometimes, baseball makes no sense. None at all. Sometimes, it is a bizarre, unexplainable game filled with strange bounces.

Take the Tampa Bay Rays’ 8-7 victory over the Detroit Tigers Wednesday. It was a confusing mess of a game in which everything you thought you knew was no longer true.

For instance, the Tigers launched a comeback when gold glover Kevin Kiermaier missed a fly ball, leading to a three-run triple.

For instance, the Rays came back from that when Juan Iglecias tripped over second base on a tailor-made double-play ball and threw wildly to first, allowing two runs to score.

For instance, the Rays knocked in the winning run with a routine groundball that would have ended the game with Detroit winning. It was misplayed, and Tampa Bay won.

Yeah. It was like that.

The Rays are now 7-2 at home on the year (1-6 on the road) and have won each of their three series this year. The Rays had 14 hits, including three each by Kiermaier and Evan LongoriaCorey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Steven Souza Jr. and Shane Peterson all had two.

The most surprising effort of the night, however, was by reliever Travis Pruitt. Pruitt had made six appearances this year, and he had given up a run in all of them. In all, he had a 15.88 ERA. But Wednesday night, he threw three and one-third inning and allowed only one hit and no runs to get his first major league win.

Pruitt said one of the keys was first-pitch strikes. “If you can do that, you’re in the driver’s seat,” he said. “If not, you’re in the passenger’s seat.”

Said manager Kevin Cash: “I really don’t know. I want to say that he’s been snake-bit by some unfortunate luck. He’s given up some hard-hit balls. We know this guy is going to be around the plate and he generally pitches ahead in the count. If it was anything, it was probably he was able to turn it into three innings where he could control the count a little better.”

The sight of Kiermaier failing to make a catch was shocking. He suggested the ball may have knuckled on him.

“Sloppy,” Kiermaier said. “We’ll take it anyway we can. I missed that ball. That’s a play I expect to make. Something went wrong with it, but I need to catch that. I hold myself accountable.”

The Rays play the Tigers again at 1:10 p.m. Erasmo Ramirez pitches against Daniel Norris.

Rowdies get a point with 1-1 draw against Cincinnati on the road

It’s a hard sport in which to score. Still, one goal will win only so often in the United Soccer League.

For the fourth time in five games, the Rowdies scored only one goal Wednesday night, and the team had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the home standing FC Cincinnati FC.

This time, Marcel Schaffer scored in the seventh minute for the Rowdies. Harrison Delbridge evened the game on a header in the 36th minute.

“We started off the game great with Marcel’s goal,” said Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell. “Despite not being able to get the three points, I think the draw is a positive result, especially against a tough team like Cincinnati. Now we have to turn the page and work on getting a win on Saturday at home.”

FCC almost scored in the 20th minute, but goalkeeper Matt Pickens made a nice save.

“I had a perfect angle with my left foot, so I decided to take a chance,” said Schafer. “Luckily it went as planned and I scored my first goal with the Rowdies. Despite the goal, I am disappointed we couldn’t get the three points, but I still think it’s a good result on the road.”

The Rowdies kept Djiby Falls, the USL’s leading scorer, without a point as Neill Collins and Damion Lowe did a nice job on him. Collins was named player of the match by USL.com.

With three games in a week, Rowdies’ coach Campbell didn’t play either Joe Cole (until the 80th minute) or Georgi Hristov (until the 65th).

“I felt that after our goal, we stopped playing the way we know how to play and that cost us,” Campbell said. “We defended well when they put the pressure on us, which is a positive takeaway.”

Tampa Bay had a chance after Cincinnati went down a man with 15 minutes to play, but they were unable to finish.

The Rowdies now return home to face Charleston Battery on Saturday, April 22.

In the end, Aaron Hernandez squandered his talent, his opportunity

Waste.

The short, violent life of Aaron Hernandez ended Wednesday when he turned his final act of aggression on himself. Hernandez, the former tight end of the New England Patriots and the Florida Gators, died of an apparent suicide Wednesday morning.

And in the end, the final tragedy was the way he threw it all away.

He was young, and he was rich, and he had a family and a big house. He was talented and on his way to being famous. In the end, none of it mattered to Hernandez, who seemed to prefer the thug lifestyle to making catches and scoring touchdowns. He signed a $40 million extension with the New England Patriots. But Hernandez was convicted of one murder (and he was found not guilty on two others).

The final questions about Hernandez are these: How much would have been enough to make him honorable? Who could have gotten to him? Will we ever know?

Even today, after he committed suicide, it has to feel badly for Hernandez. But you can feel badly for the lost talent, and the wasted opportunity, of a young man  who took his good fortune and tossed it into the street. There are a lot of players in the NFL who have overcome worse backgrounds than Hernandez had.

Hernandez seemed drawn to violence with more fervor than he was drawn to end zones. When he was at Florida, he hit a waiter so hard he punctured his eardrum. Police suspected he was the person who had shot into a bar.

Football wasn’t never enough for Hernandez. Nor was fame. Nor was the bond of teammates. Hernandez never wavered from his path of destruction. Think of his teammates: Tim Tebow and Tom Brady. Think of his coaches: Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick.

Some men cannot be changed, however. Some men warm themselves with trouble. Some men cannot turn away from the chaos.

Hernandez was that way. He simply could not turn away from violence.

 

Five things to watch for at the Tampa Bay Rowdies-Cincinnati FC match tonight

The Rowdies play a rare mid-week game tonight when they take on Cincinnati FC in the USL Match of the Week. Five things worth pondering:

1.  On the road again: The Rowdies are 3-0 at home, but they lost their only road match of the year last week when they fell 2-1 to Louisville. Cincinnati is 2-2, but it won its home opener last week in front of 23,144 fans. The Rowdies have never played before more than 13,000.

2. Who’s in goal? Last week, Akira Fitzgerald – who still hasn’t given up a goal this year – was injured, and regular Matt Pickens came in. With either, the Rowdies’ solid defense needs to be back. It posted clean sheets (shutouts) in its first three victories.

3. Headed for a Fall: In particular, Cincinnati poses a threat in Djiby Fall, this week’s USL Player of the Week. Fall scored all four of his team’s goals last week. He leads the league with six goals and 17 shots. Fall, from Senegal, is a two-time player of the year in Denmark and once in Norway.

4. Playing from behind: It’s always difficult, especially in soccer. A week ago, the Rowdies fell behind in the 22nd minute and could not get its rhythm going. Both teams scored in the final three minutes, but the Rowdies spent too much time playing catch-up. A quicker start against Cincinnati is a must.

5. More goals, please: The Rowdies have scored only one goal in three of their first four games: a 4-0 victory over Toronto being the lone exception. The Rowdies have won 1-0 twice and lost 2-1 last week. Georgi Hristov’s four goals have led the way, but the rest of lineup has struggled to finish. A nice night by Joe Cole (who has only one goal) would be welcome.

Convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez commits suicide in prison

Former New England Patriot and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, just days after a legal victory, killed himself in his cell early Wednesday morning.

Hernandez, serving a life sentence without parole, was acquitted in a double-homicide last week. His attorney pledged to fight his prior conviction and expressed confidence that Hernandez, 27, would be free again.

The attorney, Jose Diaz, said he did not believe Hernandez committed suicide. He would conduct his own investigation, Diaz said.

Hernandez hanged himself with his bedsheet, authorities said.

A fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Florida, Hernandez caught 175 passes in three seasons. At one point, he signed a $40 million extension with the team. Upon his arrest, the Patriots released him.

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer attempted to distance himself from Hernandez.

Relating or blaming these serious charges to the University of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible,” Meyer said last week.

Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide [Hernandez],” he added.

Rays return to the Trop, win solid outing against the Detroit Tigers

Dome, sweet Dome.

The Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed their return to Tropicana Field Tuesday night, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-1 in a solid victory. The Rays had spent the previous seven games on the road, losing six of them, before the victory Tuesday.

How good was it? It was so good that shortstop Tim Beckham, one of the team’s punching bags by the fans, had a two-run homer and a single and played solid shortstop for the Rays. Catcher Derek Norris also had two hits and drove in a run.

Starting pitcher Matt Andriese gave up a first-inning home run to Miguel Cabrera, but he gave up only three more hits. Three members of the bullpen were perfect in relief.

The Rays did strike out 10 times, which marked the seventh time in the last eight games they’ve whiffed in double-digits. But they had nine hits against Michel Fulmer, the reigning AL rookie of the year.

“We needed a win today,” Rays’ manager Kevin Cash said. “We went up againstt a very good pitcher in Fulmer and we had some good at-bats. Matt Andriese set the tone. He gave up the early home run, but it didn’t faze him and didn’t rattle him.”

Tampa Bay and Detroit play again tonight at the Trop. Chris Archer pitches against Jordan Zimmerman.

Bucs prepared to absorb ‘Hard Knocks’ during training camp

The Tampa Bay Bucs have scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, and the reports are growing that the team has been selected to participate in HBO’s Hard Knocks show.

The show, which has often been described as a distraction, will present a new challenge for Tampa Bay.

“I’ve said it before, I feel good about our team and the maturity, especially for being a young group,” general manager Jason Licht said Monday. “I know we have some great personalities on our team starting with Jameis (Winston), Gerald (McCoy), the list goes on and on, (linebacker) Kwon (Alexander). I think it would be, the fans would get an inside look at how our team really is. I know that you guys get a better feel than most, but I think the fans would get a real inside look at how we operate, how the players are. In terms of being a distraction, I think we’re wired to where we would be able to minimize that. Dirk (Koetter) has been through it. Mike Smith has been through it and I’ve heard positive things from them.”

Can it be a positive experience?

“Sure, it can,” Licht said. “We will see how it goes. We will see if that’s the case. I don’t know. May be a moot point, but we will see how it goes.”

 Defensive tackle McCoy didn’t sound bothered.

“I’ve watched it,” McCoy said. “Some years it’s entertaining, some years it’s like ‘whatever.’ We don’t pick them, they pick us. If they pick us, let’s be professionals about it and move forward. We’ve still got a season to prepare for, whether there’s a camera watching or not. We play the games on Sunday’s with cameras watching, so if you think you can’t go out to practice and practice with a camera on you, then you’re probably in the wrong profession. If we get picked, it is what it is, let’s be professionals and go to work.”

Said quarterback Jameis Winston: ““I know I’d embrace it. You’ve got to cherish the opportunity that you’ve got. The whole world gets to see how great of an organization this is and see the great people that we have within the organization. But our job is the play football. They add the glitz and the glamour and all that comes with it. It’s an amazing show, but we’ve got to play football. We’re out there doing it for the fans, we’re out there doing it for the city, and Hard Knocks – they’ll just show the whole world.”

Bucs’ G.M. Jason Licht certain his team can get help at No. 19

If the Tampa Bay Bucs have taken controversial running back Joe Mixon off of their draft board, general manager Jason Licht isn’t saying.

While a few teams have already stated they weren’t interested in Mixon, the running back from Oklahoma who committed assault on a woman three years ago, Licht prefers not to say.

The Bucs did have Mixon in for a visit, which Licht says was “valuable.”

Licht, addressing the media Monday in his pre-draft press conference, said he was sure the team would be able to get a player with their 19th selection.

“You can get a good player at 50,” Licht said. “You can get a good player throughout the draft. A lot of times when you’re picking high, if you go back and study it, there are a lot of high-ceiling but also low-floor players up there. A little boom or bust. That’s the way throughout the draft. A lot of times when you’re when picking later in the first round, you’re getting a safe player who may not have the flash, but ends up being a very solid player.

“It’s a little trickier picking at 19 with all the scenarios that happen in front of you. We can’t pinpoint who is going to be there yet. But we’re excited where we’re picking.”

In other Bucs news:

The team exercised its fifth-year option on wide receiver Mike Evans. Licht said he would like to see Evans be “a Buc for life.

Also, the team welcomed the return of running back Doug Martin, who will be suspended for the season’s first three games because of PEDs. Licht would not say when the team would make a final decision on Martin’s future.

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