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Rays tales

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


FOR OPENERS: Every player has an opening-day story, but few have one that can match John Flaherty's first big-league opener. It was 1992 and Flaherty, the last spring cut by the Red Sox, stopped off for a day at his home just outside New York City on the way to Triple-A Pawtucket. He was sleeping in after a long night with family and friends when a Pawtucket official called to tell him the Sox made a last-minute roster move and wanted him at Yankee Stadium right away. What normally was a 30-minute trip was going on an hour-and-a-half in bumper-to-bumper traffic when Flaherty finally got within sight of the stadium.

FOR OPENERS: Every player has an opening-day story, but few have one that can match John Flaherty's first big-league opener. It was 1992 and Flaherty, the last spring cut by the Red Sox, stopped off for a day at his home just outside New York City on the way to Triple-A Pawtucket. He was sleeping in after a long night with family and friends when a Pawtucket official called to tell him the Sox made a last-minute roster move and wanted him at Yankee Stadium right away. What normally was a 30-minute trip was going on an hour-and-a-half in bumper-to-bumper traffic when Flaherty finally got within sight of the stadium.

Desperate with game-time looming, he approached one of New York City's finest, and pleaded with the police officer to help. "He didn't believe me, so I ran around to the trunk and pulled out my catching bag and showed him my equipment," Flaherty said. Finally convinced, the policeman relented and stopped traffic, allowing Flaherty to drive the wrong way on a one-way street, wheels on the curb, to race into the players' parking lot.

"I got into the clubhouse at 20 minutes to 1, signed a contract, got a uniform as they were still ironing on the patch, and at 10 to 1 I was introduced in front of 56,000 people in my home state in the stadium where I grew up watching baseball," Flaherty said. "It was pretty wild."

YES, THAT WILSON ALVAREZ: Wednesday's no-hitter by Boston's Hideo Nomo had tangential Rays ties. Nomo is the first to pitch a no-no in his first start for a team, and the first to pitch one against Baltimore, since Wilson Alvarez did it for the White Sox on Aug. 11, 1991.

FIT TO A T: Under their uniforms, a number of players are sporting new T-shirts with GO FOR THE JUGULAR on the front and NO EXCUSES on the back.

STARS IN ALIGNMENT: Wednesday marked just the fourth date in big-league history on which there was a three home-run game (by Toronto's Carlos Delgado against the Rays) and a no-hitter (by Nomo). The last was July 3, 1970, when Atlanta's Mike Lum did the hitting and California's Clyde Wright the pitching.

Well-coached

The Rays are hoping to significantly increase their offense on the field. They've done a heck of a job on the bench, adding Wade Boggs, Hal McRae and Darren Daulton to a coaching staff that includes Jose Cardenal and Billy Hatcher. "There may be as many hits on our coaching staff as anybody has ever had on a staff," manager Larry Rothschild said. That's certainly the case among position players on current staffs:

RAYS: 9,051

Wade Boggs 3010

Hal McRae 2091

Jose Cardenal 1913

Billy Hatcher 1146

Darren Daulton 891

TIGERS: 5,833

Bill Madlock 2008

Lance Parrish 1782

Juan Samuel 1578

Ed Ott 465

BREWERS: 5,407

Rod Carew 3053

Luis Salazar 1070

Jerry Royster 1049

G. Allenson 235

What they're saying

Bob Elliott, writing in the Toronto Sun: "You take a look at Ben Grieve hitting in the batting cage and you wonder. How good is he going to be when he grows up? This is before the Tampa Bay Devil Rays rightfielder hits a ball against the cement wall, section 144, in rightfield at Tropicana Field. The distance is 460 feet from home plate. This is before his 6-foot-4 frame uncoils and hits a rising liner off a glass window in right-centerfield -- 490 feet. This is before you comment on Grieve's swing to Tampa Bay batting coach Hal McRae, who has seen good and bad swings in his 36 years in baseball. "He has a swing like Ted Williams,' McRae said, "maybe he's a little more upright. He dips when he starts, it's where he gets his lift. It's something you wouldn't teach, it's a little different, but you wouldn't change him.' "

You don't say

Players were sampling hoods, ski masks and hand warmers during batting practice, trying to figure out the best way to keep warm with the game-time temperature at 42 degrees. But Fred McGriff, even with that Tampa native blood, said he wouldn't give in to such devices. "Only the strong survive," McGriff said.

What they're saying

"You plant the seed during spring training and you hope the tree grows the way you want it to. If not, we may do some pruning." -- GREG VAUGHNon the start of the season

By the numbers

4: Players on 25-man opening roster not with team in 2000.

12: Uniformed personnel (players, coaches, manager) waiting to greet fans as Tropicana Field gates opened at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

150: Approximate fans queued up waiting to get in.

Rays vs. Rays vs. Rays vs. Rays

After 4 games:

Year W-L Pct. P-GB

2001 1-3 .250 5-2.5

2000 2-2 .500 3-.5 1999 2-2 .500 3-2 1998 2-2 .500 3-1

* * *

Overall:

Year W-L.Pct. P-GB

200141-121* .253* ?-??

200069-92 .429 5-18

199969-93 .426 5-29

199863-99 .389 5-51

* projected. P-GB: Place in East Division-games behind first -- Compiled by Marc Topkin.

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