Notes: Exciting debut for Dukes
With Baldelli hobbled, highly touted youngster starts in center
NEW YORK -- Entering Monday, only six Devil Rays players on the active roster had played in an Opening Day game for the Rays: Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes, Scott Kazmir, Ruddy Lugo and Shawn Camp.
Most conspicuous among the youngsters wearing a Rays uniform on Monday was Elijah Dukes, who was making his Major League debut while starting in center field at the ripe old age of 22.
Dukes looked composed prior to the game.
"Right now, I'm just trying to study the pitcher out there, me and Delmon [Young]," Dukes said. "[I'm] trying to look [at videos] at the pitches he throws -- just get ready for the game."
Dukes became the starter in center because Baldelli continues to nurse a tight right hamstring.
"It's a good feeling being here," Dukes said. "I always believed in my heart this day would come. From the time I started playing ball, it was like, 'One day, I'll be in the big leagues.' Now, it's up to me to make the best of it. I'll be happy when I have that first day under my belt."
Crawford is an elder statesman on the Rays, and he has helped -- and will continue to help -- Dukes in the outfield.
"Well, you know, I know the hitters a little better," Crawford said. "I'll just try to make sure we position ourselves right so we don't have to do too much running and the ball doesn't drop in where it shouldn't."
And so that he doesn't have a collision with Dukes, who is a well-chiseled physical specimen.
"No, I ain't going to do that," Crawford said. "I can control my body. Rocco and I have done that too many times."
Pena active: The Rays reassigned first baseman Carlos Pena to Minor League camp on Friday then re-signed him to a Major League contract on Sunday in the wake of Greg Norton's Monday surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
"First, I will never rejoice over anyone else's [misfortunes]," Pena said. "Especially someone we hold very dear to us like Greg Norton. ... On the other hand, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here. I really envisioned being here at Yankee Stadium, so I can't tell you how grateful I am. There are no words to express my gratitude."
Upon being reassigned on Friday, Pena returned to his home in Orlando. While weighing his options, Pena's agent called to say Norton was injured and the Rays might be interested in bringing the first baseman back. Pena said that he slept with his phone Friday night. The deal wasn't official until Sunday.
"Seriously, I've been in the Major Leagues, I have four years, something like that," Pena said. "But every breath I take up here, I'm grateful for. And I mean that."
Rays youngsters: Kazmir, at 23, is the youngest to start a home opener at Yankee Stadium since 22-year-old Joe Kennedy in 2002. That was the only other time the Rays have played in the Yankees' home opener; the Rays lost to Andy Pettitte, 4-0. Kazmir also has the distinction of being the youngest to start a season opener against the Yankees since 22-year-old Camilo Pascual with the Senators at Washington in 1956.
Kazmir is far from the only youngster on the Rays' roster. Monday afternoon's Rays lineup is the youngest Opening Day lineup since the 1983 Twins, and the eighth youngest in the last 50 years.
|Opening Day Youth|
In addition, the Rays' starting outfield is the fifth youngest in the last 46 years, which also matches the Rays' 2003 trio.
Here's a look at how they stack up:
1972 Philadelphia (average age 21.6): Greg Luzinski (21), Mike Anderson (20), Willie Montanez (24)
1975 Montreal (21.6): Tony Scott (23), Pepe Mabgual (22), Gary Carter (20)
1966 California (22.3): Rick Reichardt (23), Jose Cardenal (23), Jackie Warner (22)
1977 Montreal (22.3): Warren Cromatie (23), Andrew Dawson (22), Ellis Valentine (22)
1968 Oakland (22.6): Reggie Jackson (21), Rick Monday (22), Jim Gosger (25)
1989 Seattle (22.6): Ken Griffey Jr. (19), Greg Briley (23), Darnell Coles (26)
1987 Texas (22.6): Pete Incaviglia (23), Oddibe McDowell (24), Ruben Sierra (21)
2003 Tampa Bay (22.6): Ben Grieve (26), Crawford (21), Baldelli (21)
2007 Tampa Bay (22.6): Crawford (25), Dukes (22), Young (21)
Coming up: The Rays will have a day off on Tuesday before resuming their three-game series with the Yankees in a 1:05 ET contest at Yankee Stadium. Right-hander Jae Seo will start for the Rays and and will be opposed by Pettitte.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.