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New Tampa Bay Ray Dirk Hayhurst is a reliever, a writer, a Garfoose?

Dirk Hayhurst pitches, which is why he'll be in spring training with the Rays next month.

But he also writes books. His first, The Bullpen Gospels, made it to the New York Times best seller list with a second nearly done. He blogs at dirkhayhurst.com. He gives inspirational talks. He created a children's character, the Garfoose, a half-giraffe, half-moose, for his wife to use in teaching special needs kids. He is a regular on Twitter, under @TheGarfoose.

And he thinks.

A lot and aloud.

Which will make a Rays clubhouse already packed with super-sized personalities such as Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Evan Longoria, David Price, Kyle Farns­worth, J.P Howell and Joe Maddon, even more interesting.

"I'm the most unnecessarily famous career minor-leaguer there is right now," Hayhurst said.

He didn't set out to be either, of course. But with fewer than 40 innings in the big leagues and his 30th birthday approaching, he has become both.

The pitching part he's still working on, having risen through the Padres system to the majors in 2008, going to the Jays and making it back to the big leagues in 2009, missing last season following shoulder surgery then signing a minor-league deal with the Rays with hopes to win a spot in their bullpen.

The famous part — unnecessarily or not — happened quickly. And much to his own amusement.

What started as a column for Baseball America called the Prospect Diaries quickly evolved into a must-read within the game when reshaped as the Non-Prospect Diaries, mixing his flair for telling stories without naming names and his own sense of self-deprecation and led, eventually, to the book.

The Bullpen Gospels became a nationwide hit, combining his somewhat dark family background (alcohol abuse, suicide) with his entertaining chronicling of life in the minor leagues and drawing comparisons to Jim Bouton's infamous work, Ball Four. (A second book, about Hayhurst's time in the majors, is just about finished; he has a contract for a third, which could be about this season.)

He's also gaining fame for creating (and patenting) the Garfoose, the "ferocious, mystical, beast" he describes as a fire- breathing, magically empowered, indestructible, WiFi-enabled, half-giraffe, half-moose.

Hayhurst has a unique perspective on life and baseball, mocking the "mold" players put themselves into, acknowledging the "giant farce" of having a forum where his words matter just because he can "throw a white ball past a guy with a stick" but also admitting he'd be foolish to not "milk it for all it's worth."

And he has a good take on the reason for his popularity: "It's not so much a statement of me being goofy, but what happens when you take time to connect with the fan base, and I try to."

Hayhurst is only one of the Rays' lesser-known newcomers who have interesting stories such as Russ Canzler, who is from Maddon's hometown of Hazleton, Pa., and Casey Kotchman, the Seminole High star who literally grew up in baseball. And these others:

Sam Fuld

There is so much about Fuld, a lefty hitting outfielder acquired from the Cubs, worth noting. And that's before he steps on the field, where he tends to make himself known with tremendous hustle, literally willing to run into walls if and when necessarily (most famously in a September 2007 ESPN play of the day moment at Wrigley Field.)

He has Type 1 diabetes, requiring regular testing and injections. He has an economics degree from Stanford and is pursuing a master's in statistics. He is the rare Jewish player. His mother, Amanda Merrill, is a state senator in New Hampshire, and his father, Kenneth Fuld, is dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. He grew up a stats nerd and did an internship at Stats, Inc. while in the minors, charting pitches off game tapes. Oh, and he started playing baseball at age 3 — with his grandmother.

Adam Russell

The big burly reliever (6 feet 8, 255 pounds) with the menacing high 90s fastball has a soft spot in his heart. Russell, acquired from San Diego, is active in several campaigns to support breast cancer research (a sister is the latest of several women in his family afflicted) and involved with the Stop Bullying Now! campaign.

Cesar Ramos

The Rays drafted the lefty pitcher in the sixth round in 2002 only to be passed over when he chose to play college ball. Now that they got him in a trade from the Padres, he should feel somewhat at home. That's because Ramos not only played at Long Beach State with Longoria, but as a junior lived in the same apartment that Longoria shared with Rockies star Troy Tulowitzki.

Robinson Chirinos

Chirinos, 26, is certainly persistent. The 2011 season will be his 11th in pro ball, and he has played only 15 games above the Double-A level. But a switch from middle infielder to catcher in 2008 rejuvenated his career, and his impressive progress has made him a promising prospect and a prime part of the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs.

Brandon Guyer

Guyer was acquired from the Cubs because of his hard-charging style and success at the plate and in the outfield. But he's as well known for two other accomplishments. At Herndon (Va.) High, he scored seven touchdowns in a game as a running back. And he had a 26-game hitting streak at the University of Virginia, though the bigger deal was meeting a TV reporter doing a story on him, Lindsay Murphy, whom he ended up marrying this month.

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

New Tampa Bay Ray Dirk Hayhurst is a reliever, a writer, a Garfoose? 01/30/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 12:29am]

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