02/15/09 7:40 PM EST
Rave reviews for Rays' new facility
Players, manager thrilled to train at Charlotte Sports Park
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Tampa Bay ace went so far to suggest that in the coming days he might be found planting a few trees.
Kidding aside, the Rays sounded more than happy with their new Spring Training home at the Charlotte Sports Park.
"Very nice, very nice," said J.P. Howell, who remembered that players previously had to shuffle between Tropicana Field and Al Lang Stadium to get in their workouts. "You don't have to go back. ... That makes it easier -- in and out and a lot shorter days."
Howell raved about the weight room and the recovery facilities, which have hot- and cold-water tubs that are big enough to fit in more than one player at a time.
"So you can get in and out -- takes a lot of the waiting away," Howell said.
The new tubs have prompted some teasing about bathing with his teammates, to which Howell explained that the tub "holds about six," unless Troy Percival is among the group.
"If Percy's in there, we've got four," said Howell with a chuckle. "You didn't hear that from me, though."
Speaking of Percival, the veteran closer called the facility "first notch," adding that he hasn't been to any that is better. Percival's favorite toy in the hi-tech building is the Hydroworx, which is a treadmill in a pool that sprays jets of water for resistance.
"And that's great for me with my knee and back," Percival said. "That's all I'm mandated to do, and now I can actually get some running in underwater."
Newcomer Matt Joyce offered a perspective from a position player's point of view.
"It's amazing. It's awesome. They did a wonderful job here," Joyce said. "I'm really surprised at how nice it is -- just how well everything is put together."
Naturally, Joyce liked the batting cages best.
"I've always been a big fan of the batting cages," Joyce said. "I like to spend a lot of time over there. Everything was done very well. The weight room is really, really great. I haven't really been out too much on the field. I think they did a great job with the weight room and the batting cages. That's where I spend most of my time. That's what I enjoy most."
Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't say enough nice things about the new digs.
"Well, just look at the facility -- it's magnificent what we have done here," Maddon said. "I love the idea not just from a physical perspective, but you look at the number of fields, the batting cages, where they're located, the half-fields, then into the main field.
"Just by having that much field availability, when workouts are in progress -- particularly when we get into the game part of Spring Training -- we'll be able to do more than at Al Lang. It's virtually unlimited as to what we can do. We've got a tremendous resource available that we can be more imaginative."
Maddon also likes having the Major League and Minor League teams housed at the same facility.
"I want to do an exchange program where we get some of us from the Major League side going to the Minor League side and vice versa," Maddon said. "It's such a wonderful opportunity right now to bring the entire organization together."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.