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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Well-traveled Danny Bautista joins the Rays hoping to help patch over the outfield hole left by Rocco Baldelli's knee injury.
By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published March 3, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - As another Devil Rays workout wound down, Danny Bautista sauntered in from the outfield on a chilly afternoon and headed toward the fifth big-league locker room of his career.
He may be new on the block in Tampa Bay, but he has been around it a few times in baseball. And the addition of No. 29 to the Rays' outfield mix could help them out of their temporary fix.
Bautista will join starters Carl Crawford and Aubrey Huff until centerfielder Rocco Baldelli is ready to return from offseason knee surgery. That's expected to happen sometime after the All-Star break. In the meantime, Bautista accepts whatever role manager Lou Piniella has in mind.
"It doesn't matter where I play," he said. "I'm available to do whatever they want. I know Baldelli is a good player. And we have to continue to play well while he gets 100 percent healthy."
The only real question is where Bautista, coming off a strong season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, will play. Most likely, Huff will go to left, Crawford center and Bautista right. But that could change depending on how Baldelli's rehabilitation progresses. Bautista also will bat somewhere in the middle of the order.
In any event, the Rays are getting a quality player and person, according to Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.
"Danny Bautista will be a tremendous addition to that team," he said. "He's a good major-league player, a very good person and a good positive influence in the clubhouse. (He) will be a positive role model in the sense of going about his work. The young players will see that and begin to pick up his habits."
From the Rays' perspective, Bautista, 32, could help the team maintain some continuity if his performance in 2004 is any gauge.
Last year was his most productive in the majors. He appeared in 141 games as Arizona's starting rightfielder (10 more than in any previous season) and was on track to top .300 until a 3-for-32 slide dropped him to .286.
Still, Bautista notched a career-best 21-game hitting streak and tied a club record with five hits in a game against Milwaukee. He also had four straight two-hit games in July, raising his average to .322.
His fondest memories in Arizona, of course, are rooted in 2001, when he batted .302 in 100 regular-season games and played a pivotal part in the Diamondbacks' World Series championship against the Yankees. He batted .583 (7-for-12) and was sharp defensively.
In 2002, Bautista picked up where he left off, hitting .325 (50-for-154) with six homers to start the season. But in late May, he dislocated a shoulder while attempting to make a diving catch, tearing his labrum. He had surgery and was lost for the season. Bautista returned as starting rightfielder in 2003, overcoming a slow start and hamstring injury to hit .275 in 88 games.
Bautista has been around the game his whole life, playing it from the time he was a child in the Santo Domingo streets of his native Dominican Republic. "I remember one Christmas, the toy given to me was a little baseball," he said. "We made a bat from a tree. And in my neighborhood, we had about 50 kids but no gloves. But we found a way to play."
He signed his first pro contract at 16 with Detroit in 1989. He saw limited action for the Tigers from 1993-96 and was traded in '96 to Atlanta. He spent parts of three seasons with the Braves, joined Florida as a free agent in '99 (batting .288 in 205 at-bats) and was traded to Arizona in June 2000 for infielder Andy Fox.
"He's going to fit in perfectly here," said Rays first-base coach Billy Hatcher, who works with the outfielders. "The one thing about Danny is he works hard. He's had success in the big leagues, but he wants to get even better. The thing about Danny is he can hit and he's good defensively. He's going to play."
And give the Rays insurance while Baldelli heals.
"What Bautista does, because he's such a good player, is give you more time to make sure Rocco is totally healthy before he comes back," Hatcher said. "You don't want to mess up somebody's career trying to hurry them back. So that gives us a little luxury right now."