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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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Full-bore the only way Wigginton can play
The Rays' new power source has impressed the team even more with his approach and versatility.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 18, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Ty Wigginton wanted to go, wanted to run, wanted to score. If he had to plow the catcher, that is what he was prepared to do.
Never mind this was a spring training game.
Trouble was, Devil Rays third-base coach Tom Foley was playing it safe. Wigginton had advanced from second on an error, but the ball trickled just a few feet from the shortstop.
"This is his mentality," Foley recalled. "He said, "Next time, send me. The catcher won't hold on to the ball.' I call him the USS Wigginton. He's the battleship. He's hard-nosed all the time."
Wigginton, a 6-foot, 225-pound fireplug, is a natural for such a description.
Manager Joe Maddon called him "blue-collar." Foley added "dirt player." (You know, his uniform is never clean.) Friend and former Mets teammate Jay Bell called him a "throwback."
But in the context of the Rays' first 13 games, "indispensable" might be most appropriate.
Wigginton was whom Maddon called to play third base when Aubrey Huff sprained his left knee. He has played second and first, has shown he can play the outfield and shortstop in a pinch and is the third catcher.
He is batting .293. Four of his team-high five home runs (equaling Jonny Gomes) tied games. Six of his 13 RBIs tied games or put Tampa Bay ahead.
"Hopefully, every hitter in this clubhouse, when they go to the dish, wants to be in situations to drive in big runs," Wigginton said. "That's what the game is all about."
"He's given us an attitude," Maddon said. "The guy wants to win. He's been unbelievable."
Wigginton, 27, of San Diego, said that attitude has been with him as long as he can remember.
He said his father, Don, filled him with stories of the all-out, all-the-time effort of Pete Rose. Wigginton said Don Mattingly was his favorite player. His favorite Padre was Tim Flannery.
"They all played the game the right way and gave all they had every single night," Wigginton said. "I remember Tim Flannery getting hit by pitches and sprinting to first base. I always thought that was impressive, instead of a guy maybe gets hit and rolls around a little bit."
That came from dad, too.
"I remember in football he said if you get injured, you were to make it to the sideline," he said. "The trainers didn't come and get you."
Wigginton batted .255 with 11 home runs and 71 RBIs in 2003 as a Mets rookie. He had 12 home runs and 42 RBIs through 86 games in 2004 when traded to the Pirates.
Everything was different in Pittsburgh, Wigginton said. The daily routine, the way the team went over scouting reports, the hitting philosophy.
It led to what he described as a "spinout."
Wigginton hit .204 in his first 35 games of 2005 and in June was demoted to Triple A. He believed the Pirates gave up on him too quickly.
They released him in December. The Rays signed him for $675,000 and gave him a chance to show what Bell saw in 2003 in New York.
"He's a genuine throwback to the era I love the most, the '70s," said Bell, now a coach with the Diamondbacks. "He plays hard-nosed and he plays to win."
Wigginton's resurgence has been dramatic. He has shown patience at the plate and the quick hands necessary at third, where he has one error in 26 chances.
Wigginton made a leaping grab of a line drive with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning of Saturday's 6-3 victory over the Royals. His two-run single in the seventh broke a 3-3 tie.
His two-run home run Wednesday against the Orioles tied the score at 3 and set the stage for Gomes' winning grand slam.
"When he comes up," Gomes said, "people get off their seats to watch."
Wigginton said he loves pressure, which is why he so liked playing in tough-love New York.
"I actually enjoyed knowing that when you stepped on the field, that when you struck out, you would get booed," he said. "They expect you to go out and perform on a high level, and that's what I expect from myself."
So, go ahead, boo him when he messes up.
"I have no problem with that," Wigginton said. "Boos are part of the game."