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Different game on homefield

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003

BALTIMORE -- The Devil Rays haven't had much of a homefield advantage at Tropicana Field, with a winning percentage only slightly better at the dome (.423) than on the road (.363).

Pitching coach Chris Bosio said it quickly became obvious to him why.

"It's a different game, it's twice as fast," Bosio said. "We saw that from our first homestand to the first road series in New York."

Ground balls that zip past fielders on the Trop FieldTurf slow down on real grass and get caught. Fly balls that soar through the chilled Trop air, can -- at least when the wind is blowing in -- get knocked down outside. Mistakes aren't as easily overcome indoors.

"We've got to learn how to play at home and be a tough club at home," Bosio said. "That's the challenge we have ahead of us."

Bosio went through this before, when he went to pitch for Lou Piniella in Seattle in 1993 in the Kingdome -- "The only place I've ever seen tougher to pitch that Tropicana."

Eventually, just as the Rays are evolving into a more speed-oriented, athletic team on the field, their pitchers must learn how to take advantage of the big part of the park (centerfield) and to stop putting extra runners on base that end up coming around to score.

Over the first five seasons, the Rays' ERA has been only slightly better at home (4.83) than on the road (4.97). This season it is 6.70 at home, 5.98 on the road.

"We've got a bunch of young guys that don't play on turf throughout their career, and the game's a lot faster," Bosio said. "That's what we have to learn to deal with, and we will. ... When clubs come in there we've got to play tough. That's our home."

E-6: Maybe the Rays really decided they didn't want talented shortstop prospect Jairo de la Rosa Agramonte after determining his parents misrepresented his age and he was actually 17 or 18 and not 16.

Or maybe they decided they wanted/needed the $750,000 he was supposed to get and this was a convenient, though awkward, way out, suing the parents for their misrepresentation to void a contract that hadn't been approved by MLB anyway.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, that they didn't want to pay as much for an 18-year-old prospect as they would a 16-year-old.

Anyway, it was a loss. The Rays outmaneuvered several teams to sign de la Rosa last summer (though oddly never announced it) and scouts were impressed with his performance in the fall instructional league.

NO JOSHING: Josh Hamilton's mysterious absence for "personal reasons" has exceeded 28 days.

There have been no answers from anyone -- relatives, friends, former classmates, team officials and agent Casey Close -- as to what the problem is, but there was an interesting quote Raleigh, N.C., media attributed to Hamilton family pastor Dr. Stephen Barker.

"He's still very much a young man," Barker said. "He's had a lot thrown on him in a very short period of time. Living the life of a professional baseball player is one of the most difficult lives to lead for any athlete of his magnitude so whatever he's going through is maybe not normal, but certainly to be understood."

HOO-RAYS: Rocco Baldelli said Boston's Green Monster looked a little different from field level: "That's a lot closer than I thought it was when I was a kid coming here. When I first saw it I thought that thing was far and that thing was high. It looked like it was 200 feet tall." ... Greg Vaughn, who signed a Triple-A contract with Colorado after being released by the Rays, said he needed to get away: "They were going in a different direction in Tampa Bay and it just wasn't fun for me."

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