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Happy homecoming for Tampa Bay Rays' new acquisition Matt Joyce

LAS VEGAS

In acquiring Matt Joyce from the Tigers in a trade for Edwin Jackson, the Rays felt they got a young, left-handed power-hitting, defensively solid outfielder who could be a key part of their lineup for years. "We feel," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Thursday, ''like he's got a chance to be a really good player." And that's not all. Joyce, 24, is a Tampa Bay area product described as a hard-working, easygoing, ne'er-do-wrong type with the potential to be a star.

He has been playing in Mexico and having cell phone problems, making communication even tougher. But his excitement about the trade was best portrayed in the text message he sent to his father, Matt, at his Riverview home late Wednesday:

"This is a dream come true."

Here are a few other things to know:

The Rays like not only what he does, but how he does it.

"We've gotten really good reports on his work ethic, his makeup, on the intangibles that elevate his tools in terms of being a 'baseball player,' and that's kind of the ultimate compliment as we go through looking at guys," Friedman said.

"The first time I saw him, I said, 'I like this guy,' '' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I like the thunder in his bat. I like the effort with which he plays. I've heard nothing but good things. Several people have approached me that knew him and talked about what a wonderful young man he is, how he's going to fit. He's, to me, the kind of guy I really like to work with. He's very interesting, high-end tool-wise, just on the verge of finding himself. So it's exciting."

•••

He already has been a Ray.

In 1998, actually, at the age of 13, when his team in the North Brandon Little League was the Devil Rays.

Joyce grew up in the Brandon and Seffner area, attended Colson Elementary, Burnett Middle and Armwood High and spent lots of time around the field with his softball-playing father.

"He was 2 years old, in diapers, swinging a plastic bat," Dad said.

Joyce went on to play at Florida Southern, where the Tigers first saw him during their annual exhibition with the Mocs then took him in the 12th round of the 2005 draft. He made the majors for the first time last season.

•••

He saves kittens.

Seriously.

Joyce is actually allergic to cats, but his stepmom is a big animal lover. And one day before a July game, as some Tigers were hitting in the indoor batting cage, he heard and saw a small black cat entangled in the wiring atop the cage.

He climbed on a stool, pulled the cat to safety then took it to the clubhouse and got it a bowl of milk. There was even a video of his heroics on the Web for a while.

"It was pretty funny," his father said. "He's just so easygoing, and he just felt the cat needed some help."

•••

A Hall of Famer likes him.

Tigers great Al Kaline, now a front office executive, raved about him:

"He does everything well. He's a good outfielder. He's got unbelievable power. He does fine with the fastball. He just needs to learn to hit the breaking ball a little better.

"He's going to be an impact player, no question about it. And one thing that's unusual for a young player, he's got a real good eye and he'll take a walk. He's going to be a real good player."

•••

The trade answered a prayer.

Having heard rumors of a trade to Seattle, the elder Matt took his sleep medicine Wednesday night and went to bed hoping his son would end up where he could at least watch most of his games on TV.

When stepdaughter Lindsey Calhoun saw the deal on the Internet at about 12:30 and woke him with the news, he couldn't believe it. When Matt borrowed a phone and got through at about 2:45 a.m, they shared their joy.

"I prayed that he'd get with an East Coast team, but we never imagined Tampa," the elder Joyce said.

"We're from here. We love it here. So it is like a dream come true."

•••

He'll boost attendance.

There are more than 20 relatives in the bay area, and they like coming to watch him play. Joyce's father and stepmom, Lisa, live here. Older sister Danielle lives here. His stepsisters, Lindsey and Lacey Calhoun, live here. He has a grandmother, aunts and uncles living here.

"There's a lot of us," Dad said. "And he's got a lot of friends in this area, too."

Happy homecoming for Tampa Bay Rays' new acquisition Matt Joyce 12/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 9:37am]
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