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Rays tales

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


FRIENDLY FACE: They didn't go through the harrowing plane crash, the food deprivation or the physical danger, but the feeling, apparently, is the same. "We're on an island," batting coach Wade Boggs said. "Right now we're on an island and we're just trying to get off."

And like Tom Hanks' character in the hit movie Cast Away, they decided they need a friend. Hanks painted a face on a volleyball and instantly had a "companion" brand-named Wilson. The Rays, seeking some originality, now have Spalding as their quiet little buddy.

Spalding has a number (121/2), a locker next to Boggs' and a prime spot in the dugout for some games. The idea spawned from a conversation among Boggs, bullpen coach Darren Daulton and their wives, and it was artistically transformed into reality by Debbie Boggs.

"As bad as things were happening, we needed something to yell at and treat as an object," Boggs said. "If nothing else, it just lightens the moment, something to take the stress off the situation and put a little humor back into baseball. When you're struggling and losing, you find very few things to laugh about."

The Rays haven't won that much more in the two weeks Spalding has been around, but at least they've put a, um, different face on things.

"We've got to find a way to get off the island," Boggs said. "And hopefully it doesn't take five years."

HOWDY, DUBYA: It must be the fact that they are fellow Texans that had Ryan Rupe feeling so at ease when he and several teammates visited with President Bush at the White House last week. Bush, a big baseball fan and former co-owner of the Rangers, asked Rupe if he had indeed attended Texas A&M. Rupe's response: "Believe it." There was no word if Bush asked about Wilson Alvarez, whom the Rangers, under Bush's stewardship in 1989, traded with Scott Fletcher and Sammy Sosa to the White Sox for Harold Baines and the mighty Fred Manrique.

THE REAL SCOOP: An expanded early batting practice session Wednesday led to a season-high tying 15 hits, but that doesn't mean manager Hal McRae will mandate extra hitting every day. "It's sort of like ice cream," McRae said. "A couple scoops are good, but you get a bellyache if you eat the whole gallon."

What they're saying

Murray Chass, writing in the New York Times: "The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as they seem to be turning out, never really had a chance to make it. Vince Naimoli, the businessman who worked so hard to secure an expansion franchise on the state's west coast, is also guilty of undermining its growth."

Quote of the week

"No. No. No. And no. And hell no." -- HAL McRAE, one of the best DHs in history, when asked if he thought the DH should be eliminated

By the numbers

1: Victory for Rays when scoring fewer than four runs.

2: Longest stretch of consecutive games without an error.

31: Unearned runs allowed, more than half the '98 season total of 53.

* * *

-- Compiled by Marc Topkin.

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