Rays hit links, poke fun at Buccaneers' coaches
Maddon, Morris share bond; Upton produces day's longest drive
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Spring Training is not all work -- at least it wasn't Tuesday at the Rays camp, when manager Joe Maddon made sure the squad had a little fun.
Most of the club reported to an area next to Field 5 early in the morning for a long-drive contest. Joining the fun was a contingent from the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including head coach Raheem Morris, wide receivers coach Eric Yarber and tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts.
Tampa Bay third-base coach Tom Foley served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which saw a lot of laughter and drives most golfers just dream about hitting.
Maddon led off the contest with two solid drives hit toward the south end of the complex into a strong head wind. While the Rays manager showed fine form and had decent results, he then sat back while the rest of the group sailed past his ball with monster drives.
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Tampa Bay's center fielder recently won the long-drive contest during a team golf outing in Sarasota, Fla., when he hit a ball 370 yards. He easily defended his title Tuesday with a 310-yard poke.
"As soon as he hit it, it was, 'Take it in,'" Foley said.
Tuesday's fun carried over from the links to batting practice, where Yarber dressed out to take swings in the same round as Evan Longoria, Manny Ramirez and Damon. In doing so, Yarber left himself open for a great deal of teasing from Morris and company, but none of that seemed to bother Yarber, a big baseball fan whose favorite player was Garry Templeton.
Yarber struggled early in the cage, topping one after the other and prompting Longoria to encourage him to run hard, inferring that infield hits were the coach's best chance to reach base.
None of the comments seemed to bother Yarber, who went about his business excitedly like a little kid having a dream day. Once Yarber's group had finished, he scooped up his glove and began to bounce out toward the field, at which point Damon gave him the needle: "Don't worry, we'll pick up the balls."
Maddon then hit grounders to Yarber at second while batting practice continued, prompting Morris to offer: "You've got to coach him up, Joe."
Yarber looked winded once he came off the field, prompting another comment from the smiling Morris.
"Is practice over for you?" Morris said.
"It should be," Yarber said.
Morris had to keep after Yarber: "How come you're sweating? I don't see anybody else sweating."
Afterward, Yarber noted, "I just didn't want to make a fool out of myself. That was my main concern."
Morris and Maddon have become good friends during their time in Tampa, and the Bucs coach even allowed that he would reciprocate come fall and let Maddon -- a former college quarterback -- run the scout team.
"I have to wear a red jersey," Maddon said. "Nobody can hit me."
"If he can see over our line, he's got a chance," Morris said.
Morris noted there were several Rays he'd like to see don the shoulder pads, including Longoria and Upton.
"Longo's put some weight on," Morris said. "I can us Longo, probably play a little linebacker for me, a little Sam. He's got some toughness. I notice he's got a little bit of a swagger."
"Maybe coming in as the nickel, he doesn't want to tackle," Morris said. "So I'll get him out there on third down. But Joe got him to run the bases hard now, so I can get him to tackle."
After the morning of fun, the Rays had a game against the Blue Jays slated for the afternoon. Maddon planned to let Morris manage the game, and Morris was more than ready.
"All you got to do is look serious and spit seeds," Morris said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.