Cliches abound as Rays' full squad works out
Maddon wants team to focus on being more process oriented
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Pitchers toed the slab, hitters took their hacks and everybody showed up to camp "in the best shape" of their careers.
In other words, many of the clichés that make baseball fair game for parody every spring were prevalent on Sunday when the Rays held their first full-squad workout.
"Oh yeah, hope springs eternal every Spring Training," Ben Zobrist said. "Isn't that a cliché?"
But after observing the buzz around the Rays' workout, one quickly realizes "while smelling the grass under azure blue skies" that the source of said clichés is why baseball fans love the national pastime.
Due to Sunday's blustery conditions, Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to head indoors to Building B to make his opening remarks to the 66 players in camp.
"It was great. We ended up meeting inside, which we didn't want to do. But I'm glad we did," Maddon said. "The players were better able to focus on the message and I was better able to concentrate, myself. It was cold out there. But looking into their faces, I could see that they were really into it."
Maddon's message focused on being more process oriented and remaining in the moment. The Rays' manager said this year's team did not need a theme -- leaving it to the group to develop one of its own.
Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, could be counted among the other speakers -- as was traveling secretary Jeff Ziegler. The traveling secretary always addresses the team about myriad matters. His remarks always include a joke, which is highly anticipated and of the blue variety. According to all reports, Ziegler nailed this year's joke at Jeremy Hellickson's expense. Once the meeting concluded, the team broke into the well-orchestrated drills and exercises that took place in all corners of the Charlotte Sports Complex.
A couple of hundred fans stood along the fence watching the position players run in right field. Observing those fans, third-base coach Tom Foley, a former Major League infielder, chirped to nobody in particular: "There weren't this many people for pitchers and catchers. The athletes came to town."
Pitchers and catchers could not offer a rebuttal, since they were stationed on the other side of the field doing their own thing.
Written on the faces of the fans that showed up were the dreams of a magical summer in 2013. That dream is the same dream shared in every camp this time of the year.
Tampa Bay's camp has all the prerequisites for an entertaining Spring Training.
There's a resident phenom in Wil Myers, the marquee prospect the Rays received from the Royals in the James Shields trade. Watching the 22-year-old outfielder take batting practice will be on most fans' punch list of things to watch this spring. Will he make the team out of Spring Training?
A potential American League Most Valuable Player, Evan Longoria, is in camp and has looked fully recovered from the partially torn left hamstring that derailed him for much of the 2012 season.
In addition, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price, is on the premises, putting on display daily the work ethic that, when combined with his immense talent, has produced one of the game's top pitchers.
But for many, Spring Training is about the youngsters -- forecasting which of the young men wearing a number of 50 or above will season just right to eventually become a quality Major Leaguer.
Of note, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, shortstop/second baseman Tim Beckham, left-handers Enny Romero and Mike Montgomery and right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are all must-see faces for those wanting to look toward the future.
As usual, there are plenty of veterans hoping to earn another shot at playing in the Major Leagues. Jamey Wright could be counted among their numbers. The veteran right-hander has experienced just about every stage a player could possibly be at during his career.
"Now, I'm the dinosaur," Wright laughed. "It's another clubhouse, the opportunity to meet a bunch of new guys. Like I say, I've got more friends than anybody in this game. So that's a good thing. Played against a lot of these guys and played alongside a lot of them, too. I'm just happy to be back in a Major League clubhouse."
Don Zimmer was at camp on Sunday, bridging the gap from his Brooklyn Dodgers days to the present. The beloved "Zim" is always happy to regale those around him with anecdotes acquired during his illustrious professional career -- which enters its 65th season.
Finally, there was Maddon, the relative unknown who took the reins of the Rays prior to the 2006 season. He has since evolved into a latter-day Casey Stengel, as the Rays have evolved into a perennial playoff contender on his watch. Fans casually kibitz with the Rays' skipper, and he'll engage most anybody in conversation while keeping a careful eye on what's taking place on the field.
Zobrist stood as the lone Rays player who has been around since the Devil Rays days, back when the team wore green uniforms and losing seemed to be pre-ordained.
When a visitor reminded Zobrist that he was the last Rays player to wear the green, the follow-up to the 31-year-old Zobrist was obvious: "Feel old?"
"I guess I'm I supposed to?" Zobrist said, as he smiled. "It does feel weird, because I feel like there are a lot of guys who have been here as long as me."
Regardless of how old Zobrist may or may not have felt on Sunday, the first true day of Spring Training with a full squad never gets old.
"No, it's always new every year," Zobrist said. "And it's always fun. It's an exciting time."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.