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)

Houston holds fond memories for some Tampa Bay Rays players

NEW YORK — For several members of the Rays organization, including LF Carl Crawford, this weekend's interleague series against the Astros will be a special homecoming.

The Houston native grew up just minutes from the site in the 5th Ward neighborhood that became Minute Maid Park. But he hasn't played there since the 2004 All-Star Game; he also was with the Rays for a three-game series in 2003.

"It'll be fun to go home, I'm always excited about that," Crawford said.

There are several others with Houston (or Astros) ties, including RHP Jeff Niemann and executive VP Andrew Friedman, who are natives, pitching coach Jim Hickey (former Astros pitching coach), senior VP Gerry Hunsicker (former Astros general manager) and OF/INF Ben Zobrist (former Astros prospect).

Niemann, a former Rice University star who went to many Astros games as a kid and attended the opening of Minute Maid Park, is pumped to start Saturday. "It'll be exciting to be back, seeing a lot of familiar faces," he said. "I'm going to try to stay relaxed, keep the routine the same."

Crawford has arranged for about 40 tickets for family and friends for Saturday. One of his childhood buddies, however, will be on the field for the Astros, CF Michael Bourn. Crawford and Bourn, 27, have been friends since they played on the same Mount Zion youth league team. Bourn's father, Ray, was their coach and was one of Crawford's early baseball influences.

Crawford said he was playing mostly at the Salvation Army until joining Bourn's much more organized travel team. Like Crawford, Bourn has plenty of speed, entering Thursday's game with 14 steals (after 102 combined in previous two seasons).

"His daddy pretty much raised us into baseball, so it was nice to see that pay off," Crawford said. "We've played together since we were little, and it's nice to see two guys who played Little League together both have success in the major leagues."

IN THE SWING: With the Rays beginning interleague play today, RHP Matt Garza will be the first Rays pitcher with an opportunity to hit this season.

Hickey has had the starters (and a few relievers) on a hitting program, with the group taking batting practice again Thursday in New York. Garza said he has come a long way.

"When I got here, I couldn't hit anything," Garza said. "The last three seasons, just working with him and gradually getting back into it, I feel I can at least put the ball in play."

Garza is more concerned about his success on the mound and improving on his last outing, when he gave up one run over six innings but didn't have his best stuff. "It was just mechanical, timing was off by a hair," he said.

HUSTLE PLAY: Zobrist, who completed the rare feat of scoring from second on a sacrifice fly Wednesday, said he had never done it before and recalled seeing it happen only once, by former Cardinals great Ozzie Smith. Zobrist said it was a product of Carlos Peña's 400-foot drive to center, which New York's Brett Gardner caught on the warning track after a dive.

"I was running hard because I thought there might be a chance," Zobrist said. "Obviously that's a rare play."

Manager Joe Maddon said he loved Zobrist's awareness and willingness to run hard regardless of the situation. He hopes others will emulate that.

"I want all our baserunners to play that game right there," Maddon said. "We're almost there, but not there completely. We don't have everybody that has that game awareness yet, but when we do, that's really fun to watch and it definitely inspires the team."

Joe Smith can be reached at

Houston holds fond memories for some Tampa Bay Rays players 05/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 7:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Vikings coach feels better about QB Bradford playing vs. Bucs


    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford moved with a little more bounce in his step during the 15 opening minutes of Thursday's practice before reporters were booted.

  2. Rays at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. Friday, Camden Yards, Baltimore

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Orioles

    7:05, Camden Yards, Baltimore

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

    Probable pitchers

    RAYS: RH Alex Cobb (11-10, 3.63)

    ORIOLES: RH Ubaldo Jimenez (6-10, 6.57)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Pitcher Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait at Charlotte Sports Park during photo day on February 26, 2014 in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
  3. Bucs journal: Injury news not all bad


    TAMPA — The Bucs are dealing with injuries and illness as they prepare for their first road game of the season, at the Vikings on Sunday.

    Linebacker Kwon Alexander, left, who had an interception against the Bears before leaving with a hamstring injury, misses his second straight day of practice.
  4. 'Dream big' drives Lightning's Conacher brothers

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Two words: Dream big.

    Cory Conacher includes them every time he signs an autograph for a young hockey fan.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher (89) on the ice during Lightning training camp in Brandon Friday morning (09/15/17).
  5. Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots


    BOSTON — Tests conducted on the brain of former football star Aaron Hernandez showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and his attorney said Thursday that the player's daughter is suing the NFL and the New England Patriots for leading Hernandez to believe the sport …

    Aaron Hernandez's lawyer says the former New England Patriots tight end's brain showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. [AP photo]