Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Rays' Hank Conger, West Coast trip means going home

Growing up near Anaheim, Calif., playing baseball, and rather well, Hank Conger was naturally an Angels fan. He would go to a bunch of games, often with some high school buddies who had a hookup for good seats. He would sit and watch and cheer — and dream the dream of so many others.

"You watch games and you're like, 'Dang, I want to play here one day,' " Conger said. "And then in 2010 I'm on the field and I'm in the dugout. ... It's crazy."

The Huntington Beach prep star got to live out that fantasy as few others have, getting drafted in the first round (in 2006) and going on to play for his team, spending parts of five seasons with the Angels.

Only Conger, now part of the Rays catching tandem, found out it wasn't all fun being the hometown hero.

"When I got called up, it was hectic that first year," he said. "It wasn't a 'tough' transition, but it was a 'different' transition with everybody wanting your time. I think that was the first year I kind of learned how to say no to people.

"It's awesome to be playing in your hometown, but I had to prepare myself and take care of my own business."

Rays manager Kevin Cash, a Tampa native, went through a similar experience during his 2005 stint with the Devil Rays and, to a lesser degree, during frequent trips back with the Red Sox and Yankees.

"It's fun to see everybody, but it can be at times a little overwhelming," Cash said. "When you're dealing with 40 ticket requests and accommodating everybody, sometimes you just have to be able to separate that and just go play."

Conger, 28, eventually found a way to strike the proper balance and got comfortable with the situation. For example, he got an apartment to share with a teammate, but he would still go back to his parents' house on off-days for a home-cooked meal.

After being traded to the Astros after the 2014 season, Conger had a better appreciation for the opportunity.

"In the beginning it was overwhelming and toward the end I got used to it and enjoyed it," he said. "Then last year in Houston, especially because I was alone — it wasn't that I took it for granted because I did enjoy every minute of it back home — but I kind of realized how good I had it, just getting to play 10 minutes away from home."

His parents were always around, as was his younger brother. So were buddies he played with on the Ocean View Little League team that got within one win of the 2000 World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and the Huntington Beach High team he starred for and earned a scholarship to Southern Cal.

Because the Astros were in the American League West, Conger knew he would still get to make three trips to Angel Stadium last season, with the oddness of being a visitor wearing off increasingly after the "initial shock" of coming out of the other dugout.

But Conger is with the AL East-based Rays now, which makes this weekend's series the only time he will get to play there, and actually makes it a little more hectic. Plus, he hasn't gotten off to a particularly strong start, hitting .172 with just one RBI and losing playing time to Curt Casali.

"It'll be fun," Conger said. "It's always good. "I'll definitely enjoy this trip."

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Rays' Longoria ready for 'Play Ball'

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is featured in Saturday's episode of MLB Network's Play Ball show for kids, airing at 10 a.m. Longoria talks with host Sean Casey about growing up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr., some on-field topics and about how being a father has changed his perspective — with a guest appearance by daughter Elle.

For Rays' Hank Conger, West Coast trip means going home 05/05/16 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2016 12:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings (15 hits, 11 runs, seven innings), so Tuesday was a reassuring rebound.

  4. At 6-8, Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov comes with, and needs, a high ceiling

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked that the 6-foot-8 defenseman could reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.

    Lightning 6-foot-8 defenseman Oleg Sosunov competes in the preseason opener. Phil Esposito jokes that Sosunov can reach the ceiling at Amalie Arena.
  5. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494