Sunday, July 15, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays hope more fun leads to more success

PORT CHARLOTTE — Kevin Cash had just finished making his spring training introductory speech Friday morning, stressing how important being good teammates could factor in the Rays' success, when Chris Archer delivered another key pitch.

Archer stood up before the group in the clubhouse to present Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier with a painting they had commissioned of his home run-robbing catch in August in Baltimore.

"It's important that we recognize his hard work and his achievement," Archer said later. "As a group we thought it would be important to congratulate him and present him with something that he'll always remember that season with."

Kiermaier was surprised and touched by the gift.

"That's just Chris Archer doing Chris Archer things, giving back any way he can," Kiermaier said. "I can't thank Chris enough. He said it was from the whole team, but I know he put in the effort. … That really means a lot to me."

Maybe even more so to Cash.

"We spent all this time talking about being a good teammate, and that's the ultimate thing," Cash said. "That solidified everything that took place this morning."

While not impugning last year's group, the Rays certainly seemed to make increased camaraderie a priority issue heading into this season.

"The teammate thing is something we value as much as anything in the organization," Cash said. "Championship clubs have good teammates, great teammates."

Baseball operations president Matt Silverman went even further, saying as they restructured the roster they felt "guys who are good teammates who can come together as a club" can be the X factor in how a season unfolds.

There were plenty of other examples on the sun-splashed morning.

When Drew Smyly went to throw his batting practice session on a different field, fellow pitchers Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi walked through the fans to watch him. When hot prospect Blake Snell went out for his debut session, Archer kneeled behind him on the mound and offered encouragement.

But hours before Cash spoke, Tim Beckham was already hard at it.

Around 5 a.m., Beckham fired off a text message to Archer, taunting the All-Star ace he would be "coming for him" in live batting practice and looking to go deep. Archer shot back that Beckham had better bring extra bats since he'd have a few broken.

When they faced off, Beckham watched a couple of fastballs whiz by and then won the day, sending a pitch over the left-centerfield fence and Archer into a mock fit of anger.

"It's all fun and games," Beckham said. "See some pitches, do something productive out of the day, get some momentum going into the spring."

Beckham's blast, and the full cuts taken by a number of the other Rays during an unusually loud first-day round of batting practice, actually fit with the other part of Cash's address.

Similar to how former manager Joe Maddon used to say he wanted the Rays to play the same on March 10 as they would on July 10 and in an Oct. 10 playoff game, Cash said he wanted to see intensity and aggressiveness starting with Friday's initial full-squad workout.

"We know we're not going to win anything today," Cash said, "but the intent of having that mind-set will benefit us once the games start here and once the games start in the season and carrying over."

Archer said that message came through loud and clear.

"What stuck with me was we're trying to win and we're trying to win starting today, not April 3," he said. "That being a competitive team and being a winning team starts right now, today. And from what I saw on the field, we had that mentality."

Kiermaier also liked what he saw and heard. And, typically, he was fired up.

"We're trying to get the right mind-set right now, Day 1 of spring training for the full squad," he said. "And let's have the same mind-set through all the spring and the whole season.

"It's go-time right now. Let's execute as much as we can and not use excuses for it being early or anything like that. Let's go right now, and let's set the tone. That's pretty much what I got out of it, and looking around everyone was pretty much nodding their head. So let's get this thing rolling."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com.

     
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