tampabay.com

Maddon wants looser group on road

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 20, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays have no choice but to head back out on the road this week. They can only hope to do better.

The Rays are a mind-boggling 1-15 away from home since the All-Star break and 18-45 overall on the road, and they are perplexed as to why they have done so poorly, whether it's simply a coincidence or symptomatic of a larger concern.

Manager Joe Maddon isn't sure, but he thinks it may have to do with many of the Rays being young and bothered more by the discomforts - physical and mental - of being away from home. "Learning to deal with the crowds, just being able to be yourself when you're away from home, from what I'm seeing primarily that's what it is," he said.

The road also can provide distractions, but Maddon said he didn't think the players are staying out too late. If anything, he said he would like to see them go out - or at least hang out - more.

"I don't know that maybe we don't stay in the hotel too often," Maddon said. "We just have such a nice group of guys, I'd like for them to get together, continue to build relationships, support each other, whatever it takes conversationally. Just getting together is important.

"And when you do that on the road, there's a better opportunity to hang out. At home you don't have that chance because you want to bust out and get back to your family - understandable. But on the road, I'd just like to see us hang out a little bit more. There's no rules saying you can't go out and have an adult beverage."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Rays officials make a key pitch Tuesday to the Charlotte County commission in their bid to land a new spring training home, with the tourism council showing some opposition. . . . . As painful as it might be to see St. Petersburg raze waterfront Progress Energy Park if the Rays do move, it's worth noting that they use it only for 14-15 games each spring. . . . There's talk of 7:05 weeknight starts next season and 6:05 Saturday games. . . . The Rays are close to a deal to launch an academy in Venezuela. ... The failed Sean Burroughs experiment cost the Rays $1.5-million in salary and another $250,000 to buy out his 2007 option. . . . ESPN.com's Bill Simmons referred to Elijah Dukes as "like a cross between Milton Bradley, Ron Artest and Adebisi," the thug from the HBO prison show Oz. . . . The Rays and Dodgers could make another trade - swapping Class A affiliations in the California and Florida State leagues. . . . ESPN.com's Keith Law says the new regime "has done a good job of shedding veterans and adding depth to the farm system, which was something the LaMar regime failed at miserably (assuming they even realized it was important)." . . . At least until it opens, the new Yankee Stadium isn't good news for the Rays and other revenue-sharing recipients because the Yankees will subtract stadium construction debt from gross revenues and thus put less in the pot that goes to other teams.

NO JOSHING: Three interesting things that came out of the HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel piece on Josh Hamilton: 1) The Rays sent him to the Betty Ford clinic as soon as they were aware of his drug problems in 2001 but "against doctors' advice he left after only eight days." 2) His personal rock bottom came in an electricity-less trailer with six strangers "not knowing if these people were going to try to kill me" while letting "the dope man" use his truck in return for more drugs. 3) His wife, Katie, drops him off and picks him up so he's not driving alone, and he doesn't carry large amounts of cash to "eliminate the risk" of temptation.

WEB CUBIC ZIRCONIAS: ESPN's bid to name the top three "web gems" (apparently the top defensive plays of which it has easily accessible video) in Rays history came up a bit short. The choices were: 3) Joey Gathright crashing into the centerfield wall Aug. 22, 2005, against Cleveland; 2) Carl Crawford running on the bullpen mound and reaching over the side wall to make a catch May 2, 2005, against the Yankees; and 1) B.J. Upton's throw-from-his-butt play Aug. 11 in Oakland. Crawford alone has made at least a half-dozen better plays.