10/11/08 9:40 PM ET
Scolded at school, fan lauded by Rays
Sharples, 12, meets favorite players after taking suspension
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
After watching his favorite team, the Rays, clinch the American League Division Series on Sunday night with a win over the White Sox, Sharples decided to show his support and got a mohawk, a hairstyle so popular among the Rays and their fans that it has now been dubbed the "Rays-Hawk."
Lincoln Middle School didn't take to the 'hawk so lovingly, and Sharples' one-inch hairstyle landed him an in-school suspension on Monday. The 12-year-old, who moved from Palmetto, Fla., to St. Petersburg on Saturday, joined several students in ISS. Among the suspended were a couple of fighters and a few bullies, but just one kid in for the 'hawk.
Rays outfielder and resident bouncer Jonny Gomes saw the story on the local news and quickly got in contact with Sharples and his family.
"The kid got punished for being a Rays fan," Gomes said. "What's wrong with that?"
After Gomes learned that Sharples and his father were planning to attend Game 2 of the AL Championship Series on Saturday night, the outfielder took his show of gratitude one step further and scored the two field passes for pregame batting practice. Gomes also presented Sharples with a bat signed by various Rays players.
"I thought I was just going to the game," said a stunned Sharples. "When they turned out onto the field, I was like, 'What the heck?'"
But Sharples' much-deserved reward was just beginning. Once Sharples got out onto the Tropicana Field turf, the Rays stopped over, one by one, and offered their support.
"Keep the mohawk, man," right-hander Andy Sonnanstine said, giving Sharples a fist bump.
First baseman Carlos Pena offered to write the youngster's former principal a note.
And Rays manager Joe Maddon's synopsis?
"He's like a young Jonny Gomes," Maddon said.
|"The kid got punished for being a Rays fan. What's wrong with that?"|
|-- Rays slugger Jonny Gomes|
"Hopefully, we've got a Rays fan for life -- a Jonny Gomes fan for life," Gomes said. "To make the kid's day -- maybe make the kid's year -- is awesome."
And it's safe to say the trouble was worth it.
"I've been going to Rays games since I was 2 years old," Sharples said. "I went to the second baseball game [at Tropicana Field] ever."
But where did Saturday's events rank?
"This is awesome!" Sharples exclaimed.
Shortly after, Sharples was enthusiastically greeted by Maddon and Rays right-hander James Shields, who pitched in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday.
Not a bad story for Sharples' classmates. And not a bad ending to his 'hawk, although he has no intentions of taking a razor to the style.
"Not until they win the World Series," Sharples said.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.