BALTIMORE - If you are planning to come to Tropicana Field this week for the chance to see Barry Bonds hit - and if you are any kind of baseball fan you should be - Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella has good news for you.
He plans to give Bonds the chance to hit.
"The fans have never seen Barry Bonds in our area," Piniella said. "We're not engaged in a pennant race of any sort. Now if it's a game-winning situation in the late innings, obviously the answer is no. But prior to that, yeah, we're going to do our best to get him out and give him an opportunity to hit. That's what the fans are going to come over and see."
This is Bonds' first, and probably only, appearance at the Trop, but advance sales have not been strong, which - taking whatever fans think of the Rays out of the equation - doesn't speak well of the bay area as a baseball market.
Before he came to the Rays, Piniella saw plenty of Bonds. He is happy to tell you how good, how special, how - his word - "exceptional" Bonds is.
"This guy just might be the best player that ever lived," Piniella said. "I haven't seen Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. I didn't see much of Willie Mays. I saw some Hank Aaron at the end of his career.
"But I've seen a lot of Barry Bonds, and he's pretty damn good. I can tell you that. And he's gotten better as he's gotten older."
Piniella hopes fans come out to see Bonds. He also hopes his young players watch.
"Some of our hitters have never seen a guy that big and strong choke up and hit that many home runs," he said. "With the bat control he has, I think players can learn from watching him. Everyone these days wants to get over the handle a little bit. He hits more home runs than anyone, and he's up a good 3 inches on the bat handle."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: It wouldn't be a surprise if Jason Standridge ends up with the Marlins. Dan Jennings, the scouting director who drafted Standridge for the Rays, is a vice president with Florida. ... Pitcher Paul Abbott, released last week, probably will look to sign with a team closer to his southern California home. ... D'backs ace Randy Johnson looks to be on schedule to pitch against the Rays in Arizona. ... One thing for Piniella to take solace in: The Rays have a better record than Seattle. ... There are rumors in Philadelphia of interest in Carl Crawford.
BOOK IT: Senior adviser Don Zimmer's new book, The Zen of Zim: Baseballs, Beanballs and Bosses, is due out within two weeks, and he'll be doing plenty of promotional appearances, including some morning-show appearances and book signings in New York and at least one signing in the bay area.
"It's got some controversy in it," Zimmer said.
One of the more interesting topics is Zimmer's view on how the game has changed - not necessarily for the better - from when he played in the 1950s and '60s. There are also some pointed comments about his former boss in New York, George Steinbrenner.
Zimmer is on the cover in a Rays uniform. Piniella wrote the foreword.
LOOKING AHEAD: While the Rays are working feverishly to decide what to do with the No. 4 pick in Monday's draft, there is an interesting possibility for next year.
B.J. Upton's younger brother, Justin, is projected to be one of the top 2005 picks, supposedly with as much talent and shortstop skills as B.J. and more power. And, he told the Virginian-Pilot, he'd like nothing better than to end up playing with his older brother.
"We've joked about how cool it would be to hang out all year," Justin said. "Hopefully, I'll be up there in the top three picks."
Said B.J.: "I don't know where he's going to play. Not shortstop."