Toiling in the Red Sox dugout for eight years, Terry Francona couldn't look across the field and bring himself to say many nice things about the Rays.
But now that his perspective has changed, hired on as an analyst for ESPN, the former manager has found that his views have, too.
"When you're in a Red Sox uniform, it's not real easy to be throwing bouquets over to the other team all the time," Francona said. "Now that you're looking at it without bias, my goodness, they've done some tremendous things.
"The decisions they've made and the way they play and Joe Maddon and their ownership and their front office — they've made some tremendous moves."
If anything, Francona said the Rays aren't appreciated enough, given the challenges they face.
"It's not 'pretty impressive' — it's more than that," he said. "It's something. People in baseball realize it, but it's a shame more people don't watch it because they're exciting, not just as a team but as an organization. I wish more people went to the games."
Francona is as impressed as most with the Rays rotation and says their youth could be an advantage since health of starting pitchers is so often a key factor in the AL East race.
Then he went back to raving, this time about rookie lefty Matt Moore. "This kid Moore they brought up at the end of the year, that was some of the easiest 95 (mph) I've ever seen," he said. "The decisions they've made on some of these players … "
GOING LONGO: 3B Evan Longoria plans to relinquish his role as player rep after four seasons, saying he enjoyed it but "my interest level is not 100 percent with what I'm doing, and if I'm not giving my all to the position, then I feel like I'm doing my team a disservice." Moore has shown interest in replacing him. … Jaime Edmondson, Longoria's model girlfriend, said on an SI.com Hot Clicks podcast they've been amused and "giggling" about the fuss since news of their relationship was confirmed in the Tampa Bay Times last month because they've been dating since last season: "People are acting like it's breaking news now; for us, it's old news." She said they met through a mutual friend ("It wasn't like love at first sight"), and that when she's not on the road working, "I will definitely be at a lot of Rays games."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Sounds like the Rays plan to honor late boxing trainer Angelo Dundee by having his son, Jim, throw out the first pitch for the April 6 season opener. … The Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection system pegs the Rays for 86 wins, less than the Yankees (94), Rangers (91), Red Sox (90) and Angels (89) and tied with the Tigers. Last season it predicted the Rays to have 84 wins; they had 91. … Luke Scott created his first stir as a Ray, telling mlb.com about the "arrogance" of Red Sox fans: "They're ruthless. They're vulgar. They cause trouble. They talk about your family. Swear at you. Who likes that?" … ESPN's Buster Olney figures the Rays have the third toughest early season schedule, noting that 19 of their first 32 games are against teams with winning 2011 records. … Maddon's latest best-thing-ever is the KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drink, coconut flavor. He has also been touting coconut milk.