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Layoff gives Martin a better perspective

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 30, 2003

DUNEDIN -- Even big-leaguers need to be reminded sometimes about how cool it is to be a big-leaguer.

Take Al Martin, one of the the newest additions to the Rays after being signed Friday. He sat out last season after playing nine seasons in the majors. Back now, he has spent a year recharging his batteries.

"Having a year off helped me mentally and physically," Martin said Saturday in the visitors clubhouse at Dunedin Stadium. "I kind of got to regroup, get the fire back to be in the big leagues. I hate to say it: when you play so long, you don't appreciate it the same. But when you're out of it, you realize it's a pretty good gig."

Martin, 35, spent time in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle, then went to camp with the Marlins this spring and hit .342. When the Marlins cut him Friday morning after he refused to sign a waiver that would allow him to be sent to the minors during the first 45 days of the season, the Rays scooped him up.

And he didn't forget his bat: He was 2-for-3 with a run, an RBI and a stolen base Saturday.

"It has been a whirlwind; this is where I wanted to come," said Martin, who said he had offers from several teams but settled on Tampa Bay because he played for Rays manager Lou Piniella in Seattle.

"The comfort level of knowing people here -- Lou and the (coaching) staff -- made it an easy decision," Martin said.

It also made the decision easy for the Rays.

"I had him in Seattle and he was a real professional hitter and a good guy to have in the clubhouse," Piniella said.

Piniella said Martin, a .278 career hitter, will be used primarily as a DH, but will see spot duty in the outfield.

"I'll do anything Lou asks," Martin said.

MORE NEW FACES: Left-handed reliever Mike Venafro, picked up Friday after being released by Atlanta, has a similar view.

"I'm just excited to be in the mix here," said Venafro, 29, who Piniella said might be used as a specialist against left-handed hitters. "Here, I'm going to get that chance, and my role or what I would do wasn't quite as defined with Atlanta. So I'm really excited to be here."

The Rays also added utility infielder Terry Shumpert, a 36-year-old who played primarily with Kansas City and Colorado during a 13-season career. Shumpert, who has a .255 career average, can play all infield and outfield positions, giving the Rays more versatility.

TOUGH SPRING: The Rays finished with their worst spring record at 8-19-3 after Saturday's 12-12 tie against the Blue Jays.

Still, Piniella was pleased, specifically with the pitching.

Offensively, the Rays struggled, but there were bright spots. Damian Rolls led the team with a .428 average. Travis Lee hit .338 and Ben Grieve batted .329. Carl Crawford led the majors in steals, getting his 10th Saturday.

TODAY'S SCHEDULE: The Rays and Red Sox will work out at Tropicana Field in preparation for Monday's opener. The sessions are closed to the public.

Pitcher Steve Parris, the fifth starter, will throw in a minor-league game to prepare for his scheduled debut Friday against the Yankees.

SPANISH RADIO: Oceanica International Corporation will broadcast all 81 home games in Spanish on La Invasora Radio WAMA-AM 1550.

GAME DETAILS: Fourth starter Nick Bierbrodt had a rough final start of the spring. He gave up eight runs, seven hits and three walks in three innings. He threw 78 pitches. ... The Rays sent 12 batters to the plate in an eight-run second. The eight runs equaled the Rays' spring high. ... Catcher Javier Valentin hit his first homer with the Rays in the fifth. Marlon Anderson, who went 3-for-6, homered in the eighth.

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  • Naimoli deserves a little credit

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