By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- More than any others in the Rays camp, Mike Caruso and Jose Guillen know what it's like to be Josh Hamilton.
As Hamilton is doing here, Guillen went to spring training with the Pirates in 1997 as a promising youngster coming off a strong season at the Class A level. Caruso did the same in 1998 with the White Sox.
Whether the 19-year-old Hamilton can make the jump will be one of the Rays' most fascinating story lines. Guillen and Caruso made it, but they know now, more than they did then, how tough the adjustment can be.
Guillen was, coming off an MVP season at Class A Lynchburg. He made the team in a blur, stringing together hit after hit throughout the spring until one day he looked up and realized he'd made the team. A few days later, it hit him that he was in the major leagues. "It was hard for me," Guillen said. "You're in these different stadiums and you're playing in front of a lot of people. The first 10 days I tried to do too much. Some of the veteran players came to me and told me to relax and do what I need to do."
Caruso was 20, having been acquired in trade the previous July from San Francisco, which had made him a second-round pick in 1996.
Caruso said the on-field physical activities were not all that different. It was the mental aspects of the game that provided the bigger challenges, learning how to deal with the failure, how to respond to the continual adjustments, how hard you have to work to succeed.
"When you're young, that young, you don't have the foundation because you've never done it before," Caruso said. "That's important for some of the young guys coming in here from Class A to get that foundation, and then they can go back to it every year."
Caruso learned things like the value of studying opposing pitchers, of appreciating the "game-within-the-game" competition between hitter and pitcher.
"I was playing on adrenaline back then. I really didn't develop a work ethic yet. I didn't know. I came out of high school, played a year in the minors and I got up there," Caruso said.
"It's funny how that works, but you learn from your mistakes," he said. "It's hard for people to understand, they don't want to hear that you make mistakes, but it's baseball and you know it's going to happen with young guys."
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: His book about to hit the shelves and his movie set to start production, Jim Morris retired from baseball Saturday. Morris made headlines in 1999 when he went from coaching a high school team to pitching in the majors at age 36. The Rays released him after an inconsistent and injury-shortened 2000 season, and he was in camp with the Dodgers before deciding to head home to Texas with a cranky left shoulder. "It's just time," agent Steve Canter said. Morris' last major-league pitch was ball four to Paul O'Neill on May 9 in New York, forcing in the deciding run in the Yankees' 4-3 victory.
VIEW FROM THE TOP: Managing general partner Vince Naimoli left the decision on whether to bring back manager Larry Rothschild this season to general manager Chuck LaMar. Naimoli was quiet at the time, but says now it obviously was the right move. "It was really interesting," Naimoli told the Times' John Romano. "Chuck thought and thought and thought about that. He thought about it for months. He would talk to me, and I'd say, "Chuck, it's your decision.' In retrospect, how can you not go with Larry when the team won 69 games after being decimated by injuries. You can easily say, "If we won 75 games would there be a decision at all to make on Larry?' And the answer is no. Well, would we have won 75 with (injured pitchers Juan) Guzman and (Wilson) Alvarez? Sure."
TOP O' THE MORNING: If things do work out better this season, Fred McGriff has his first reason why. "I think it's the uniforms," he said. "We've got new uniforms and we've got the luck of the Irish now. Naimoli always goes for the (Notre Dame) Fighting Irish."
HOO-RAYS: Third baseman Aubrey Huff was ranked fifth and second baseman Brent Abernathy seventh on Baseball America's annual list of top rookies. ... Kevin Harmon, formerly the big-league strength and conditioning coordinator, was reassigned to the minor-league level. ... Five players are unsigned: Doug Creek, Aubrey Huff, Russ Johnson, Felix Martinez and Tanyon Sturtze. ... There will be a seven-inning intrasquad game at noon Tuesday. Admission is free.