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Wakeup call put pitcher on notice
Bobby Seay, a first-round pick in 1996, finally focuses on his craft.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 14, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays pitcher Bobby Seay went home with a takeout feast after a recent workout.
But while girlfriend Jennifer Botsolas savored every bite of her juicy hamburger, Seay was stuck with a salad.
"I felt so sorry for him," she said.
It is all part of the plan for Seay, 26, who more than eight years after signing with Tampa Bay has finally made baseball the priority it always should have been.
He said he is eating better, working out harder and more focused during pregame preparation. He also is making a serious bid to earn a job out of camp.
That is notable. Seay, thought to be a can't-miss prospect when he signed in November 1996 as a free agent out of Sarasota High, has done it only once, in 2003.
"Bobby Seay, right now, is the best he's ever been as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He's grown up and proved to everybody he's a major-league pitcher."
"I don't know what changed," said Seay, the only player to have been in each of the Rays' eight spring camps. "I guess my seriousness, the way I approach the game, the way I see the game, knowing that this could be the last time to pitch ever, taking that approach every time I get the ball."
It's not difficult to figure out what got Seay's attention. The Rays put him on waivers near the end of last season's camp. With no takers, he was sent to Triple-A Durham.
"A hugewakeup call, not just from a baseball aspect but from a life aspect as far as what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Seay said. "I decided to put more into my career. I decided this is what I want to do for as long as I can."
Predictions for a long, successful career were common after Seay, from 1994-96, went 30-4 with a 0.79 ERA and 362 strikeouts in 2211/3 innings for Sarasota. Drafted 12th overall by the White Sox, he was declared a free agent because of a technicality in the signing rules.
The Rays gave him a $3-million signing bonus, and LaMar at the time called him the top left-hander in the '96 draft. Things looked as bright as Seay's car with the paint job that changed color in the sunlight.
But Seay was hampered by injuries; a fractured foot, a strained oblique muscle, left elbow strain, strained left index finger, left-shoulder tendinitis.
He also had to deal with the expectations created by his signing bonus: "It's a rude awakening. The responsibility is a big burden. There was pressure."
And plenty of opportunities to have fun. As for the game, he said, "If I put more into it I probably would have gotten a lot more out of it."
The result: 24 big-league games through 2003 and no season without at least some time in the minors.
Self-evaluation came after he cleared waivers in March 2004. Seay said he and Botsolas spent much of the two days before he reported to Durham hanging around the house and talking.
"He was very stressed," Botsolas said. "He wondered about what he was going to do. I think it was a little scary."
"You know you're back at the bottom of the barrel and you have to fight your way back if you want to have any chance of sniffing the major leagues," Seay said. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things."
Seay was called back to the Rays on July8. He spent the rest of the season in the majors, the longest stint in his career, and over 222/3 innings in 21 games was 0-0 with a 2.38 ERA, 17 strikeouts and five walks.
Seay said his biggest adjustment has been better location on his pitches. He said this season's priority is keeping inherited runners from scoring after allowing 11 of 18 to cross the plate in 2004.
Seay said he has stayed off sweets and late-night snacks and dropped 10 pounds to 235 on his 6-foot-2 frame. And he has better cared for the left shoulder that put him on the disabled list in 2002 and '03.
LaMar said Seay will be given every chance to make the team. If he doesn't LaMar said there should be interest from other clubs because Seay proved he can pitch in the majors.
A significant step, but not enough.
"I want to prove," Seay said, "I belong here for a full season."