ST. PETERSBURG — Since the Tampa Bay Rays promoted Matt Joyce from the minors in late June, the 26-year-old has had his share of game-winning hits. A pinch-hit grand slam on the road. Another grand slam that put the Rays on top in Matt Garza's historic no-hitter. A three-run homer in a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees at a full Tropicana Field. Joyce is a homegrown talent. So it's no wonder Tampa Bay area fans love him. The outfielder grew up in Seffner playing at North Brandon Little League and graduated from Armwood High School. His father, who lives in Riverview, is now a regular at the Trop.
The South Shore & Brandon Times caught up with Joyce before the Rays left for their latest road trip. Here's some of the conversation:
Does it feel like a homecoming for you every time you step out on the field?
It still does. I see people that I haven't seen in years almost every game. It's really cool just to be able to play in front of your hometown crowd. Not a lot of people get that chance.
Have you been getting a lot of ticket requests?
Oh God, every day. I'm trying to limit it because it's just getting out of hand, and it's just one of those things that you have to manage. … Especially when the Yankees come to town, everybody's your best friend.
Have there been any unexpected challenges from playing close to home?
I think the tickets go along with that. A lot of distractions, and a lot of your time is demanded. It's hard enough to come over and play every day, but it's harder to manage how you spend your time when your family wants to spend time with you and your friends want to hang out. They kind of don't realize that you have to really be here every day and all day, and it's a grind.
In your first game with the Rays this year after getting called up from AAA, Edwin Jackson, whom you were traded for, throws a no-hitter. Did you feel any added pressure after that?
I think there was a lot of adrenaline going that night. Anytime you come up from the minors, people don't realize how much adrenaline is really pumping. It was a tough first day, and I would not want to go back and relive that one.
What's your relationship like with Matt Garza after hitting the grand slam to give him the lead in his no-hitter?
I think we had a little special connection on that one. It was a little bit of fondness of each other. At that point, we were just trying to push a run across the board and get Matt back out there to finish what he started. He did an amazing job, and we were just pumped for him.
Favorite hang out spot as a teenager in Brandon/Seffner?
The baseball field was pretty much the only spot we hung out at … the movie theaters, (and) I remember going to the skating rink a couple times when I was younger.
What advice would you give kids playing at local little leagues who dream of making it to this level?
It's a long, hard road, but anything's possible. To come from this area and to have the opportunity to play for your hometown team is a real dream. And you have to work hard, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices.
Kevin Smetana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2439.