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Rays' Tyner rises above expectations

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001


Although he is 24, Rays outfielder Jason Tyner easily could be asked for identification at a movie theater. Called "Tiny" by some teammates, here are his takes on being 6-1 and 170 pounds, hitting home runs, playing pranks, counting his blessings.

RM: I bet people in general don't believe you're a professional baseball player because of your size.

JT: That's true. I even get it from my teammates. When I first got here, they put a fungo bat in my locker, put a hat on it and put a sign that said "Tyner" on it.

RM: Must get tough out on the field.

JT: I'm kind of a jokester about it myself, so it's no big thing. But I've heard it all. "Hey, what are you doing out there, shouldn't you be in high school?" or "Hey, when's your curfew?"

RM: Do you get carded?

JT: Actually, I don't get carded a lot.

RM: I'd card you every time.

JT: You probably should card me. I would probably card me.

RM: How much is size a factor in baseball?

JT: I kind of like playing the way I play. Hitting singles, bunting, trying to steal bases. It's kind of fun doing what I do. It's kind of fun being a little unique and different. Sometimes, when we're down by a run or so, I wish I could step up and hit that big home run. But if I tried to do that, I don't think I would be here. I have fun playing and I see myself as leading the way for other little players.

RM: If you could switch bodies with any player in baseball, who would it be?

JT: I would have to say somebody like Ken Griffey Jr. I still want to be able to run and make things happen on the bases, but it would be nice to be able to hit the ball out of the yard like he can.

RM: The word is there's an asterisk on the only home run you've ever hit.

JT: It was fall ball, in college.

RM: Yo, that doesn't count.

JT: Look, there was a guy trying to strike me out and there were umpires. Some people count it and some people don't. I count it.

RM: Wouldn't it be great to get that first one off your shoulders?

JT: It'll come eventually. I'm getting stronger every year. I've hit it pretty well up the middle. I'm an up-the-middle hitter, so usually when I hit my best ball it's to the deepest part of the park. So, I just need to get a little bit better turn on the ball, and it'll come in due course.

RM: You're not the quiet little mouse though, are you?

JT: It's funny, most people think I'm a quiet guy but that's not really the case at all. You can ask my teammates, and they will tell you that. Since about college (at Texas A&M), I've been a bit of a prankster.

RM: Most memorable prank?

JT: One time we rigged up shaving cream to the main door of the main hallway of the freshman dorm. And there we were, all the freshmen baseball players, in my room. And then we hear the door open and hear somebody get hit and then someone knocks on the door. Honest to God, it was a police officer. He walks in and there's shaving cream all over his uniform. I had never seen a police officer in the dorm before we rigged that thing. Not once. He was cool. Of course, none of us took credit for it. It could have been worse. I remember he said, "Tell whoever did it, that that was a good one."

RM: I hear you have a take on Steve Cox.

JT: Ever notice that he and Ben Grieve look alike? Well, Steve Cox is Ben Grieve on an off-season diet of cheesecake.

RM: Are you stunned that you've become a major-league starter this soon?

JT: I'm still feeling like I'm just happy to be here the next day. When I came up, I came up expecting to be here for two weeks or so until Jose Guillen got better. But now, I'm getting to play a lot and it's fun. It's hard to play when you're worried about every time Hal (McRae, the Rays manager) comes to talk to you. About (two weeks ago), I got called into the office and I was worried, thinking I was going to get sent down. But that's when he told me I was going to get to play more.

RM: How did it feel?

JT: I was excited about not going down. It s---- to lose, but it feels a lot better than being down in the minor leagues and taking buses.

RM: Is it true that your mother's death from cancer has taught you a thing or two about complaining?

JT: I don't feel it's my right to complain, especially in my situation. I could go 0-for-100 and I would still feel lucky for being here.

RM: Finish these lyrics, she's a bad mamma jamma . . .

JT: That's a real song? I have no idea.

RM: Try this one, for those about to rock . . .

JT: Is that a rap song?

RM: No, Jason, it's AC/DC. . . . We salute you. Ever heard it?

JT: No.

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