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Rays tales

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


HAVE GLOVE, WILL TRAVEL: Baseball has provided Rusty Meacham the opportunity to make a living and live out a dream. It's also given him a chance to see the country. The 33-year-old right-hander is the classic journeyman, a 33rd-round pick in the 1987 draft who is with his eighth organization and has called 16 different cities home during his 13-year professional career. In the past five years, Meacham has played in nine cities, plus spent four winters in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and this past one in Hermosillo, Mexico. "I think," Meacham said, "it shows you how bad I want it." The relocating from city to city, moving from apartment to extended living hotel, can be hard on Meacham, and harder on his wife and two sons. Meacham finished last season with Houston, making it back to the majors for the first time since 1996, then spent the winter in Mexico. He got to spend six days at home in Stuart, in the new house they just built, before heading to St. Petersburg. "This is what I love to do" Meacham said, "and you don't get to do it forever."

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION: Mike Caruso may not stick with the Rays, but he definitely should feel well-connected.

Consider that Caruso:

Was a second-round draft choice by the Giants in 1996, one pick after they chose Matt White, who became a free agent through a loophole in the draft rules and signed with the Rays.

Was traded from the Giants to the White Sox on July 31, 1997, as part of a package for Wilson Alvarez, who is now with the Rays, and Roberto Hernandez, who used to be.

Took over as the White Sox starting shortstop in 1998, replacing legendary Chicago star Ozzie Guillen, who is with the Rays and with whom Caruso will be competing for a backup job.

Was third in the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year voting, finishing behind new Rays outfielder Ben Grieve and former Rays pitcher Rolando Arrojo.

ACTION ON THE SET: Steve Cox took a turn in front of the cameras Friday, taping a TV commercial for Eckerd Rays Rookies kids club. Cox had about a half-dozen lines in the spot, which he said turned out to be more than enough. "It took probably 20 takes," Cox said. "I couldn't remember them." Cox shared the spotlight with Raymond, the team mascot, and Billy Norris of Radio Disney, but wouldn't give away any of the highlights. "If you want to know anymore, you're going to have to watch it on TV," Cox said. "We have one of those confidentiality clauses." Actually, Cox said, it was a fun experience. Could there be more TV work in his future? "Hey, I got my foot in the door," he said.

What they're saying

Sports Illustrated's Jeff Pearlman, in a spring training postcard on the CNNSI.com Web site: "No more "devil' in "Devil Rays.' Well, sort of. For the six people who own Tampa Bay merchandise . . . good news! You now have a collector's item. . . . (GM Chuck) LaMar, a nice guy with a rough gig, has been saying his team has a chance to win 80-something games. This is a) ludicrous, and b) eerily similar to his prediction of last spring. ... The Rays have invited to camp a collection of some of the most, uh, "used' pitchers in baseball history."

Quote of the week

"It's funny."

-- FRED McGRIFF, on what it's like to have former teammate Wade Boggs as his overly vocal hitting coach

By the numbers

7: Positions played last season at Double-A Orlando by Paul Hoover.

11: Left-handed pitchers on the spring roster.

30: Rays ranking, out of 30, by USA Today Baseball Weekly.

Roster report

Here is the first of our weekly guesses at what the 25-man opening day roster will look like:

PITCHERS (11): Albie Lopez, Paul Wilson, Juan Guzman, Ryan Rupe, Bryan Rekar, Tanyon Sturtze, Esteban Yan, Doug Creek, Ken Hill, Bobby Seay, Jesus Colome.

CATCHERS (2): John Flaherty, Mike DiFelice

INFIELDERS (7): Vinny Castilla, Felix Martinez, Brent Abernathy, Fred McGriff, Steve Cox, Russ Johnson, Ozzie Guillen.

OUTFIELDERS (5): Greg Vaughn, Gerald Williams, Ben Grieve, Jose Guillen, Jason Tyner.

DL: Wilson Alvarez.

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