Rays expect Manny, Damon to lead, have fun
Players excited for what new veteran teammates can offer
ST. PETERSBURG -- B.J. Upton remembered his first encounter with Manny Ramirez on Aug. 4, 2004, the night the Rays outfielder made his second Major League start.
Tampa Bay hosted Boston at Tropicana Field, and Upton stood on the infield clay at shortstop. In the third inning, Ramirez hit a line drive that Upton speared, and the Red Sox slugger saluted the young shortstop accordingly. When Upton arrived at his locker after the game, he found a signed Ramirez bat resting there.
Upton has since found a home in center field with the Rays, but he never forgot that gesture by the colorful Ramirez, whom Upton now looks forward to becoming teammates with, along with Johnny Damon, noting that he will love having both of them on his team.
"[It] kind of reminds me a little bit of '08," Upton said. "You bring in two veterans [Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske] that could just change the whole complexion of the clubhouse. I think we have a good idea of what they're going to do on the field, but I think the biggest thing for us is having so many young guys and bringing in guys of their stature, guys who have played in the AL East for so long.
"I think they're going to fit in great. Obviously, Manny's a lot of fun, and from what I hear, Johnny Damon's the same way. And that fits right in inside our clubhouse and our style of play. We want to have fun. Having fun is the first part, especially with those two guys in the clubhouse this year."
David Price felt like the move said a lot about Rays management.
"[They are] two pretty good-name guys," Price said. "[I] think that shows our ownership wants to win. [It boosts] our team morale up. We were all pretty pumped."
Matt Joyce called the pair's arrival "very interesting and exciting."
"It's going to be intriguing for the fans, and I think it's going to draw a lot of interest," Joyce said. "I think it's going to be a great fit for the Rays and also those guys. There are a lot of young players, and two veteran guys who have done it before and done it a lot, had a lot of success, to step in and kind of lead the team, show them the ropes. It's going to really be beneficial for us. And obviously, we know they can play and they've been All-Stars and World Series champions. We know what they bring to the table."
When asked what he thought the reaction to Ramirez would be in the stands, Joyce shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know, but I think everybody's excited to see what he's going to come up with next," Joyce said. "He's just exciting, he's fun to watch. I know he's a great player and he's going to bring a lot to the team."
Joyce did not seem concerned in the least about Ramirez altering the chemistry of the team.
"I think it just lightens the mood when you bring a guy in like that who knows how to have fun," Joyce said. "You never know what he's going to come up with next. That's the great thing about Manny: He brings something new to the field and he makes it exciting and fun and fresh. So we're going to have fun with it. And that's what the Rays love to do."
James Shields said he wasn't surprised by the move that brought the veterans to St. Petersburg.
"I had an inclination [Rays executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman] might sign one of the two," Shields said. "And now we have both of them. I'm really excited to have both Johnny and Manny on the team, just for the pure aspect of experience. Both of them played in the American League East, so they know what it's all about. They're both veteran players. So it's nice to have that veteran status in the clubhouse."
Shields said a young clubhouse can always add some more leadership.
"The more veterans you have, the better," Shields said. "Especially with a young team like we have now -- just so guys can look up to them and see how they work, see how they go about their business a little bit."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.