Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

For Rays' Joyce, 'mother' wasn't 'Mom'

ST. PETERSBURG

Even today, it is not as simple as mother and son. Even on Mother's Day, there are different forms of caring beyond childbirth, different ways of making a difference in the life of a child.

Consider, for instance, the women who own a piece of Matt Joyce's heart.

Today, Joyce will start his day by sending a text to his older sister, Danielle. After all, Danielle was always his fiercest defender. Today of all days, she deserves to hear a kind thought from Joyce.

A bit later, perhaps on his way to the ballpark, Joyce will telephone his grandmother. After all, Patty Klein was warm and wonderful and, as Joyce calls her, "freaking Wonder Woman." It is a given that Joyce will call her to say thanks.

After that, it gets more difficult. Later in the day, perhaps when the baseball game is over, Joyce will take a deep breath, and he will call the woman who gave him birth.

Frankly, there have been easier calls for the Rays rightfielder to make.

They are not particularly close. For most of his life, Vallie Klein has kept her distance from Matt. There are times, as Joyce talks about her, you can still see the wistful little boy inside. You can feel the void, and the loss, and the missing moments of a child that can never be restored.

"It's a frustrating call to make," Joyce said quietly. "I just wish our relationship was different, and it isn't.

"I probably still hold it against her a little bit. It's a case where I try not to, I try to forgive and forget. I still try to have a relationship with her and work on it. But, yeah, there is still some resentment."

Joyce was a toddler, 3 or 4 years old, when his mother packed him and his sister into a car and left for New Jersey. But Matt Sr., Matt's father, came after them. The kids ended up with his grandmother until Matt Sr. won custody.

After that, Joyce would see Vallie sporadically, but for a young boy, it never seemed to be enough. It never quite seemed to fit.

Even now, Joyce picks his words carefully. There are halts and pauses as he decides how much to give away and how much to protect.

"As a kid, I would have loved for her to be around," said Joyce, now 28. "There were a lot of times I got upset because she wasn't. I didn't understand that as a kid.

"But, you know, nobody's life is perfect. Everyone goes through something. Everyone has circumstances to overcome. You learn to deal with them, and you move on in your life. No matter what life throws at you, you just have to persevere."

And so the quiet kid found his way. His father was hard on him at times, but his sister and his grandmother provided enough soft edges to make a difference. He remembers his sister standing up to the father when she thought he was being too hard on him. He remembers his grandmother as being "awesome." It made a difference.

Perhaps that is the message here. Joyce had plenty of nurturing. It just came from other places.

"I had some amazing women in my life," he said. "It wasn't as if I didn't have a mother. My sister and my grandmother just took over. I wouldn't be here without them."

As for Vallie? As Matt says, "she just wasn't cut out for it."

She was a bartender, and she liked the lifestyle, including the drugs. Because of it, there is only so close that Joyce can get.

"It's tough to say how different I would have been if she was in my life all the time," Joyce said. "I don't know any better. I know what my life was. I don't how different it would have been."

As it turned out, Joyce's life has been pretty good. He is still among the most popular of all Rays. If there is a common question that Rays fans ask about him, it is a simple one: Why doesn't he play all the time?

"He's been so good in his role, and that's to kill right-handed pitching," manager Joe Maddon said. "There are certain lefties I like him on, but to play every day, he'd have to be consistent against left-handed pitching. That's the one thing that keeps him from playing every day, but he's going to play the majority of the time.

"I really believe this. Say you play him and he does poorly, that could impact what he does against righties. I really don't want that to be impacted, because he is so good at hitting right-handed pitching."

Against righties, Joyce has hit .265 over his career. But that number dips to .193 vs. lefties.

On Saturday night, Joyce was at it again. He had a pair of doubles to help the Rays' attack against San Diego.

Nice plays. Nice moments.

Just a thought, but perhaps his mother should have been here to see it.

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