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New outfielder Kapler an offbeat guy who's in tune with the Tampa Bay Rays' needs

PORT CHARLOTTE — He doesn't believe in luck, good or bad. Says there's no such thing as wrong decisions. Won't do things just because that's how they've always been done. Sees no point in making long-term plans.

Gabe Kapler, the Rays' newest outfielder, is a bit out there.

He thinks deep, talks long, philosophizes often. And he views life just a little differently.

"It is," Kapler said. "This moment is exactly as it should be. We get what we get when we get it. We are where we are for a reason.

"I look at things like that. That's my approach to the way I see things."

There are reasons Kapler's vision is shaped that way.

An interesting career path including 1998 minor-league player of the year honors he never quite lived up to, an aborted 2005 move to Japan, and his one-season 2007 "retirement" to be a minor-league manager.

And an eclectic personality, as he reads voraciously, is deep into nutrition and whole foods, wears his Jewish heritage proudly and considers himself "a music freak" who plays the drums and bass guitar, plus basketball and poker.

The Rays signed on for the whole package when they signed Kapler to one-year, $1,000,018 contract (the 18 means life in Judaism) to be part of their rightfield platoon and to be a clubhouse leader and liaison.

Manager Joe Maddon says that having Kapler, 33, is like having another coach on the team. And with reason.

As when he left a seemingly comfortable situation as the fourth outfielder on the World Series champion Red Sox for Japan in 2005, Kapler made another surprising decision to quit playing at age 31 and go into management.

He managed Boston's 2007 Class A Greenville (S.C.) team, making positive impressions on and off the field on Red Sox prospects such as Lars Anderson ("My mentor," Anderson said) but realizing at the end of the 58-81 season he wanted to return to playing. "I have no regrets for following my heart in either direction," Kapler said.

The ventures to Japan and to the manager's office provided similar lessons.

He signed with the Yomiuri Giants, planning to "play every day, kick a- - and come back as an everyday player." He went into managing planning to spend "a couple years" in the minors then get a big-league job "with a great team and win a World Series right away."

Neither worked out.

Now his plan is not to make any more long-range plans.

"I learned a lot from those two instances," he said. "The lesson is to be here, right now. To be in this moment, the present."

As much as Kapler espouses the "in the moment" philosophy, he has a methodical and intellectual side, with vast and diverse interests.

For one, he immerses himself into fitness and nutrition, having posed years ago for some magazine covers, and is constantly reading (currently The Omnivore's Dilemma) and researching topics (such as sustainable vs. industrial farms), working out and refining his diet.

He won't touch fast food, offers teammates occasional advice (and keeps a jar of his own peanut butter in his locker), prefers "natural whole foods" such as a fresh bell pepper and relishes a meal such as wild rice with organic chicken stock with fish, fried tofu, or chicken or beef "as natural as I can get it."

For another, he is extremely proud of his Jewish heritage and the importance of being a role model, though he makes clear the distinction that he is not a practicing Jew. He shows it with two of his eight tattoos: a Star of David on his left calf and a Holocaust memorial, with the words "Never Again," on his right.

And he has lots of theories. Even in talking conversationally about missing his two young sons and wife Lisa, he offers up the potential for "subconscious sabotage" — making sure not to think so much about being with them that he isn't totally focused on what he has to do here. He has another stemming from a Japanese Zen children's short story called The Farmer's Luck. He has decided the effects of ADD medication outweigh the benefits and doesn't take it.

After coming back and spending 2008 with the Brewers in a part-time role, Kapler came to the Rays and — without making plans — talked about having more to accomplish on the field.

"I imagine I'm going to play baseball for the foreseeable future," he said. "That said, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. And I'll make no apologies for following my heart."

Of course he won't.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

fast facts

Meet Gabe Kapler

Age: 33 Born: Hollywood, Calif. Lives: Tarzana, Calif.

Personal: Wife, Lisa; sons Chase and Dane. … Attended Cal State-Fullerton and Moorpark Community College. … Father is a music teacher. … Has tattoos of his sons' initials and his wife's name, his wedding ring, a Japanese symbol meaning brotherhood (his brother has the same one in the same spot), and his hometown area code.

Professional: Was 57th-round pick of the Tigers in 1995. … Hit .322 with 28 homers and 146 RBIs for Double-A Jacksonville in 1998. … Hit career-high 18 homers in 1999, including his major-league first at the Trop, off Albie Lopez. … Traded to Texas in 1999 nine-player deal for Juan Gonzalez. … Had major-league high 28-game hitting streak in 2000. … Traded to Rockies in 2002. … Member of Red Sox 2004 World Series team. … Hit .153 in 38 games for Yomiuri in 2005 before being released and rejoining Red Sox. … Ruptured his left Achilles tendon running the bases on a teammate's September 2005 homer. … Managed Class A Greenville (S.C.) in 2007. … Hit .301 for Brewers last season.

New outfielder Kapler an offbeat guy who's in tune with the Tampa Bay Rays' needs 03/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 12:59pm]
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