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For their own good
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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Twins' littlest 'piranha' returns to Trop as surprise sparkplug
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 3, 2006
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen might have put it best last week when he called the Twins "little piranhas" because of the pesky and ferocious way they play.
And as the Twins invade Tropicana Field Monday - somehow despite a series of injuries still in the middle of the AL wild-card battle and on the edge of the Central race - one of their fiercest weapons is Jason Tyner.
Devil Rays fans remember Tyner as the scrawny outfielder who played parts of four seasons in Tampa Bay, trying to live up to the expectations of being an everyday impact player who was featured in team promotions, including a planned 2002 bobblehead giveaway.
Tyner, 29, was let go by the Rays in 2003 and spent all of 2004, most of '05 and the first half of this season in Triple A, but he has since become a key player for the Twins, perhaps finally comfortable in using his speed and slash-style hitting to his advantage.
"We kid him that he throws grenades out there, soft line drives," teammate Michael Cuddyer told the New York Times. "He really knows his game and doesn't deviate from it."
Forty-six of Tyner's first 50 hits were singles - and no, he still hasn't hit a home run in 997 big-league at-bats, the longest streak of any active player - but his .307 average has made him an everyday player for the first time in years. He started in centerfield when Torii Hunter was out, then took over in left.
"I'm a lot better at knowing what pitchers are trying to do to me, and not letting them do it," Tyner said. "When I first got up here, I was just looking for the ball and trying to hit it. There's a whole lot more to this game."
As for the bobbleheads?
The Rays had to cancel the promotion after he was sent to the minors five days before they were to be given out, and thousands sat in storage for years. This past offseason, the Rays gave them to the Pinellas Education Foundation for use at Enterprise Village, where they are among the items students can "buy" with their earnings after learning about business and commerce.
TEAM TAMPA BAY: Tyner isn't the only Twin with bay area connections. Veteran pitcher Brad Radke graduated from Tampa's Jesuit High and lives in Largo; rookie starter Boof Bonser is a St. Petersburg native and Gibbs High product; and backup catcher Chris Heintz is a Countryside High and USF grad.
GOOD-LUCK CHARM: Jeff Conine may provide the Phillies more than a steady bat if they get to the playoffs. Conine - whose two Marlins World Series (1997, 2003) rings match the total his new teammates have - has never been on a team that was eliminated in the postseason. He is one of three major-leaguers since the 1995 advent of the wild-card to appear in as many as six postseason series and never lose. The others are Craig Counsell ('97 Marlins, '01 D'backs) and Chili Davis (1998-99 Yankees), though Davis did lose with the 1987 Giants.
MAYBE ANDREW FRIEDMAN SHOULD TRY THIS: Oakland's Barry Zito said part of the reason for the A's remarkable second-half success (a 125-45 August record since 2001) is the stress-free atmosphere created by GM Billy Beane. "More than anything, it's that we're a relaxed bunch of guys," Zito said. "When most teams are putting pressure on themselves in August and September, we're kind of chilling. Billy sets the tone, wearing shorts and flip-flops in the clubhouse."
HIT MAN: White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was pained but philosophical about being hit by pitches eight times, including one last week by Tampa Bay's Ruddy Lugo. "I'm the target for everyone," he said. "They don't hit Jermaine (Dye), they don't hit (Jim) Thome, they don't hit (Paul) Konerko. They always hit me. I guess that's good for our team because if we lose one of those guys, we're in trouble."
NUMBERS GAME: Each of the five teams in the NL West has spent at least 18 days in first place and 13 days in last this season. . . . The Phillies went into play Saturday with 29 games remaining, all against teams that currently have losing records. Six, though, are with the Astros, whom they haven't beaten since May 18, 2003. . . . If Mike Jacobs hits three more homers, he, Dan Uggla (21) and Josh Willingham (20) will make the Marlins the first NL team to have three rookies with at least 20 each. . . . Grady Sizemore has 18 steals; through Friday the rest of the Indians had 20.
QUOTEBOOK: Cardinals backup catcher Gary Bennett, after an 11-for-16 five-game tear that included back-to-back game-winning hits: "This isn't quite the norm for me, although I could get used to it." ... Brewers outfielder Gabe Gross, a former Auburn quarterback, after his latest injury: "I've probably pulled everything else to pull, but never a hamstring."
MISCELLANY: Marlins president David Samson sounded at least crass and probably a lot worse in joking on a radio show about staging a ballpark "porn night" and other type events, as the Sun-Sentinel reported. ... Detroit outfielder Craig Monroe's mother's first name is Marilyn. Really. ... The Cubs apparently will wait until after the season to part ways with Dusty Baker, but speculation already is rampant they'll hire Joe Girardi away from the Marlins. ... The Rangers are expected to trade Hank Blalock this winter. ... Mike Schmidt had no problem with Ryan Howard, 26, breaking his Phillies single-season home run record of 48: "He's a much better hitter than I was at that age. He might be the latter-day Willie Stargell." ... Frank Thomas is seeking a multiyear deal to stay in Oakland. ... Andrew Miller, whom the Rays drafted but didn't sign in 2003, made his major-league debut Tuesday for the Tigers after pitching five pro innings (over three games) at Class A Lakeland. ... Royals shortstop Angel Berroa was a late scratch from Tuesday's game after aggravating a left foot problem walking through a Minneapolis shopping mall.
Information from other news organizations was used in this report.