ST. PETERSBURG -- Gabe Kapler's familiar face could be seen inside the Rays' clubhouse over the weekend.
The former Rays outfielder last played for the team in 2010. While with Tampa Bay, he was well-respected and liked inside the clubhouse. Seeing his old teammates interact with him told one that Kapler still held said status.
"Unbelievable teammate," James Shields said. "He's one of the best guys I've been around in baseball -- just his work ethic, how he went about his business and how he was so positive."
In addition to being well-respected for the person he is, Kapler earned a lot of respect for how he took care of himself.
"He's probably the fittest teammate I've ever had, then [Kyle] Farnsworth," Shields said. "Farnsworth is pretty close."
After the 2010 season, Kapler joined the Dodgers for Spring Training in 2011.
"My intent was to get one last hurrah," Kapler said. "But only if it was close to home. So if I had a chance to play for the Dodgers, that would have been ideal. It came down to a kid name Xavier Paul and me at the end. He was out of options and I was totally expendable and understandably so. I opted to just stay home and be with my family, and that worked out really well for me."
If anybody had to guess what field Kapler might have gotten into -- outside of baseball -- after his player career, something to do with the fitness industry would likely have been the guess by most. While he remains passionate about fitness and what he eats, he has found another business that he enjoys, diving headlong into his new endeavor with Egraphs, a Seattle-based start-up company that is a licensee of Major League Baseball and MLB Advanced Media.
Egraphs uses technology to create an exchange between stars and their fans that is personal, interactive and memorable. At the end of the exchange, fans receive an Egraph. Each Egraph features a unique, authenticated, handwritten note and a personal audio message from the star captured on a high-resolution photo that can be shared online and offline.
Kapler leads Egraphs' business-development team.
"It's my main focus," Kapler said. "It's really what's capturing all of my attention. And I'm pretty passionate about it. I'm putting all of my heart and soul into it."
He noted that one of the reasons the players have been so enthusiastic about joining Egraphs is that "each player knows for sure he is connecting with a genuine fan. Egraphs are designed to be personal and meaningful. They are a keepsake rather than a commodity, and that's what makes them so special."
Fans initiate the Egraphs process by sending an individualized message through www.egraphs.com to one of the players on Egraphs roster. The player, using an Egraphs iPad app, opens the message and then responds to the fan's note, making the whole process interactive and tailor-made for each separate request.
"If the player, or celebrity, puts their heart and soul and creativity into it, the fan has something they can keep forever," Kapler said.
Maddon expects warm welcome for Damon
ST. PETERSBURG -- Though he only played for the Rays for one season, manager Joe Maddon thinks Johnny Damon will get a warm welcome Monday.
Damon and teammate Casey Kotchman return to Tropicana Field with Cleveland to start a four-game tilt that goes through Thursday, and Maddon is looking forward to seeing the current Indians again.
"I'm certain that he would," Maddon said about the chances Damon gets a nice ovation from the crowd. "I didn't get a chance to visit them there. The schedule did not allow me to get out early enough, the weather and everything else. I'm looking forward to having a conversation with them."
In 51 games for Cleveland this season, Damon is batting .223 with four homers and 17 RBIs.
Kotchman, meanwhile, is enjoying another successful season. Though his average is down to .241 after batting .306 last year, Kotchman has nine long balls in 78 games after having 10 through all of 2011. His 36 RBIs are just 12 shy of his mark with Tampa Bay a season ago.
In the offseason, the Rays' front office opted to bring back Carlos Pena to play first base instead of re-signing Kotchman. Though Pena is hitting just .196, his 13 dingers and 37 RBIs best Kotchman.
Maddon said he believes both players are strong defensively, but are too different at the plate to make viable comparisons.
"I'm happy that Casey is enjoying some success up there. I hope that will continue to rise for him, too," Maddon said. "But I'm really pleased with what Carlos has done here, and I really expect him to be huge for us also. They're just two different kind of players."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.