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Traces: 1981
Four young Rays born in banner year
By Doug Miller /

In 1981, the world first said hello to frequent flyer miles and a test-tube baby.

And in that very same year, four members of the Tampa Bay Rays were introduced: Ben Zobrist (May 26), Carl Crawford (Aug. 5), Rocco Baldelli (Sept. 25) and James Shields (Dec. 20).

All four contributed to the youngest World Series ever.

During the regular season, Shields went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA as the anchor of the Rays' deep and talented starting rotation.

Crawford hit .273 with 57 RBIs and 25 stolen bases during an injury-shortened campaign.

Zobrist provided some pop off the bench with 12 home runs in 198 at-bats.

Baldelli inspired his teammates by coming back from a mitochondrial disorder and chipping in with a huge hit in Game 7 of Tampa Bay's American League Championship Series win over Boston.

And while this quality quartet might be in their 20s, their television tastes are a bit more vintage.

"I love 'SportsCenter,'" Zobrist said of the long-running ESPN highlight show. "And Nick at Nite. I used to watch that a lot."

Crawford, meanwhile, chimed in with the 1990s stalwart "Martin," starring comedian Martin Lawrence.

As for the men he looked up to as a kid, Zobrist is very much in the wheelhouse of his year of birth.

"My dad was my main role model," Zobrist said. "Ozzie Smith was my favorite player."

When Zobrist's dad wasn't watching baby Ben, he was most likely glued to the news in 1981 as these historic events unfolded:

*Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, the Prince of Wales.

*The Space Shuttle Columbia embarks on its first flight.

*The word "Internet" is mentioned for the first time, IBM introduces its first PC and Microsoft introduces MS-DOS.

*Iran releases 52 American hostages who had been held for 444 days.

*Air-traffic controllers strike, causing chaos in the United States, before being fired by President Ronald Reagan.

*Reagan nominates Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

*Reagan and Pope John Paul II are shot, but both survive.

*MTV (Music Television) is launched.

*Veteran TV newsman Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time.

In the world of pop culture, "Pac-Man" reached new heights of popularity, and several movies that many of the young Rays surely appreciate debuted, including "Stripes," "Porky's" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "Chariots of Fire" won the Oscar for Best Picture, and other hit films included "On Golden Pond," "Reds" and "Arthur."

On TV, Luke married Laura on "General Hospital," and in the world of music, Simon and Garfunkel wowed more than 500,000 fans in a concert in Central Park, while Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" duet stormed up the radio charts.

But for these four young, hard-rocking Rays, the best news of 1981 might have been the birth of the metal band Metallica, which sprung up in the Bay Area and can still be heard all over the big leagues.

Doug Miller is a senior writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.