Rays manager Joe Maddon was excited to talk last week with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, the former Orioles great who was in town to promote and sign his latest children's book.
The feeling was mutual.
Ripken — whose company operates myriad youth camps and tournaments, and owns minor-league teams (including the Rays' Class A Stone Crabs), and who may have bigger, or big-league, aspirations — praised Maddon for his management style and said the Rays are a great organizational model.
"It's been remarkable to look at" what they've done, Ripken said. "I've had some glimpses inside. I love my conversation with Joe Maddon earlier. Every time I get a chance to talk to him, I will poke around in areas that I know he's passionate about, and that gives me a good understanding.
"The organization has drafted well, developed well. With less resources, they've continued to be more than a competitor. They're playoff-caliber teams every single year. And it's wonderful to see. Not only is chemistry important in a team, but once you do it for a while, like Tampa Bay has done, you develop a culture, an organizational culture, that doesn't run itself, but it's easier to come in each and every year.
"So it's been wonderful to watch, because what it proves is that it's about the baseball expertise, not necessarily all the money you have. The money you have as a big franchise or a big market, you can erase some of your mistakes or you can add to your depth because of injuries and those sorts of things, which is a value. But what this model proves is that it's your baseball expertise that actually allows you to be competitive all the time."
HELPING HAND: Rays TV man Dewayne Staats emcees and pitching great Roy Halladay hosts a bingo event Wednesday at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall benefiting pediatric cancer causes. Tickets $25-$100; see factrbaseball.com for details.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Selling more than 10,000 ticket flex packs (three, six and nine games) is a good start to that campaign; more relevant is how many buyers are new customers and/or are previous ones buying more. … After re-reading the mushy, cheesy romantic notes he wrote in wooing now-wife Julianna that are included in their soon-to-be-released book Double Play, Ben Zobrist joked: "I'd like to punch 19-year-old Ben Zobrist." … The Rays tested a mesh design among concepts for the new batter's eye at Tropicana Field before going with a solid dark blue wall. The new bar area will be named but not themed, so no tiki bar. … Sun Sports' season preview, hosted by Todd Kalas, debuts after today's game telecast. … The Rays being off Monday on St. Patrick's Day didn't deter mlb.com from selling green items with the team logo, though no longer a jersey that was posted in February.