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Movie benches Rays until the final frames

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays turn out to be not much more than bit players in The Rookie, the new movie about Jim Morris' journey from high school coach to major-league reliever.

The film doesn't deal much specifically with the Rays, starting with Morris' childhood dreams of playing baseball, then focusing on his time with his Texas high school team, which provided the impetus for his comeback attempt.

The Rays don't really show up until the final half-hour. There are the obligatory, and somewhat exaggerated, scenes of life in the minor leagues, and the film culminates with Morris making his September 1999 debut for the Rays in Texas.

Because the actors are wearing the Rays' redesigned uniforms, footage from a 2001 game was mixed in, providing clear but brief screen time for trainer Jamie Reed, infielder Felix Martinez, and reliever Doug Creek but creating obvious discrepancies for those watching closely.

Though Rays minor- and major-league personnel are represented, all the names have been changed, except for the Jose Canseco, Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff jerseys hanging in the locker room.

Still, it made for a decent flick.

"I enjoyed it; it was a great baseball movie," second baseman Brent Abernathy said. "It can teach you a lot about following your dream, and doing whatever it takes to realize them."

The movie is scheduled for release March 29.

MASTER SCOUT: On his first day as a Texas area scout for the Reds in 1989 Chuck LaMar's first task was to speak with George Zuraw, one of Cincinnati's master scouts. They didn't talk long, but the words meant so much to LaMar, they became something of his personal scouting motto.

"I've never forgotten what George told me," LaMar said. "He said you can still beat the competition through hard work, through coverage; you can still come up with players other clubs won't come up with by working harder; and you have to get to know the best players in your territory the best you possibly can.

"No truer words were ever spoken."

They remained close as each went on with their careers, LaMar to the Pirates, Braves and Rays, Zuraw to the Mariners and Pirates. Saturday, they teamed up. LaMar hired Zuraw as a major-league consultant, scouting teams in both leagues and handling special assignments.

"He's a reason a lot of us appreciate scouting as much as we do," LaMar said.

Zuraw, 71, is entering his 43rd year in the game and has five World Series rings and a list of 25 players he signed who played in the majors.

REACHING OUT: Trying to be fan friendlier, the Rays hired Bob Carter, head of a business and management consulting firm specializing in communications. "In keeping with the entire temperament of the team for the last year or two, being fan friendly and dialed in to customer service, they thought it was really important to not only listen to the community but to connect with the community in a different way and to really get the community to embrace the Rays in a new and better way," Carter said.

REMEMBER HIM?: When the Rays were first looking for a manager in 1997, Grady Little was considered a strong candidate based on his extensive minor-league managing career and past association with LaMar.

Little interviewed, but LaMar went with Larry Rothschild. Little, who went on to coach with Boston and Cleveland, was named manager of the Red Sox last week.

"I wouldn't have brought him in if I didn't think he had a shot at being the manager," LaMar said. "I just felt at our stage of development to go in a different direction, but it was nothing he did. He and I have talked about it several times since, and if he thought he was ready then, he's really ready now."

MONEY MATTERS: While other teams are scrambling, managing general partner Vince Naimoli said the Rays are in full compliance with Major League Baseball's financial requirements, specifically of having no more than 40 percent debt. "We have a rolling forecast and we not only comply now but our ratio actually gets better in the future," he said.

YOUNG GUNS: The Rays go into the season with the second-least-experienced team in the majors, with an average of 2 years, 33 days of major-league service based on their current 40-man roster. Only Montreal, at 2 years, 7 days, has a lower average. Most experienced is Arizona, at 5 years, 130 days.

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