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Foley sees growth from start to finish

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2002

NEW YORK -- As the third-base coach, Tom Foley has a unique view of the Rays' accomplishments.

NEW YORK -- As the third-base coach, Tom Foley has a unique view of the Rays' accomplishments.

As the former farm director and field coordinator, he also has an interesting perspective.

Foley spent most of the past six years working with the current major-leaguers when they were minor-leaguers, giving him a sense not only of where the young prospects are now, but where they came from, and how far they've come.

"Not too many people get the opportunity to get in on the ground floor when you have no players, then you start signing players and you start drafting players, and you grow from there," Foley said. "Now you see the guys that were in our organization here. ... It's nice to see that, and you hope the flow keeps going."

He was there with Victor Zambrano in the team's first minicamp in 1996. He waited for Travis Phelps and the rest of the inaugural 1996 draft class to show up. He was with Toby Hall, Joe Kennedy and Ryan Rupe in minor-league stops such as Hudson Valley, Charleston (S.C.), Orlando and Durham.

"You get them into the organization and you see something, or you try to see something," Foley said. "And then as time goes by, you try to envision. Can he play? Toby Hall -- can he catch and hit in the major leagues? Can he be a major-league catcher? Joe Kennedy, when he was in Charleston, can he pitch in the major leagues?

Having moved up to the major leagues himself this winter, Foley loves what he sees. And he loves being on the field to see it.

"This," he said, "is the best office in the world."

SOMETHING BREWING: Alex Sanchez never made it to the majors with the Rays, but he has the Brewers talking about him as a young Kenny Lofton-type player. Sanchez, who was claimed on waivers, is hitting the ball on the ground, legging out infield hits and stealing bases. He reached base in six of his first nine plate appearances.

"This guy is just electrifying," manager Davey Lopes said. "He's fun to watch right now."

Elsewhere, catcher Mike DiFelice not only made the Cardinals roster, but earned at least a share of the starting job with Mike Matheny. Two other Rays who made rosters with outstanding springs were Jose Guillen and Quinton McCracken -- both in Arizona. (See chart at left.)

FARM REPORT: Every team tries to accomplish the same two things with its minor-league system: develop players and win games. The catch is how they approach the duel directives.

Cam Bonifay, who took over the Rays system in November, brings an interesting philosophy: Develop players who can help a team win.

"We're going to develop players, but I also think part of that development is getting them in a winning frame of mind," Bonifay said. "The most important part of our responsibility is to promote winning-type players, players who are trained, coached and instructed to do the little things that win baseball games."

In other words, teach the players to play the game right and hope those abilities lead to victories.

THE REAL DIRT: A new base of Tennessee clay eventually should make the Tropicana Field infield firmer and more consistent.

The Rays replaced the clay for the first time in five years, switching to a new mixture (more clay less sand) that is supposed to be firmer, retain moisture better and not result in as many divots and chunks of flying dirt.

"The consistency should be better and it should stick together better," head groundskeeper Dan Moeller said. "It needs games. The more we work it up, the more action it gets, the more players with cleats that are on it, the better it will play."

HOME AT THE DOME: Besides the addition of the Catchers Club, the Rays made some other small changes at the Trop.

They repainted the stadium aisles to make them less slippery and cleaner-looking, switched the parking lot traffic flow to supposedly speed entry, hired a new cleaning company, added signage to help fans find their seats, and, last but not least, created a more visible entrance to the Tropicana Room, which offers a pregame buffet for $16.95.

They are also pushing a Baseball on a Budget theme (that applies to the fans, not the team), which touts the Beach seats ($5 for adults, $2 for children and seniors) and a new value meal: $3.75 for a hot dog, soft drink and Cracker Jack.

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