Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' No. 0, Mallex Smith, on fast track for 25-man roster

PORT CHARLOTTE — The first hint that new Rays outfielder Mallex Smith is a little bit different is the number on the back of his jersey: 0.

After being traded to the Rays last month, the open-thinking, smooth-talking, fast-running Smith decided he wanted to distinguish himself by requesting the unusual digit, which will make him the first player in team history to wear it and one of just a few in the majors.

"I was like, I need to come off the mark," Smith said. "My name's kinda different, my game is a little bit different, you know what, I'm gonna go with zero."

Figuring he would switch from the 17 he wore with the Braves last year, Smith considered a couple of options.

"I couldn't have 13, that's one of my favorite numbers," he said. "That has a story behind it — I feel like (the movie) Friday the 13th and Jason, he's always somebody's worst nightmare.

"Now that I'm zero, it's like, 'You can't touch this.' "

As flamboyant as that makes Smith sound, he insists that is not really the case — insisting he is "fly" only on occasion, noting he's "very basic" in terms of clothes and drives a standard black Ford F-150 pickup.

"I'm a very open and vibrant guy, and I like to be loud and talk when I'm around and playing," the 23-year-old said. "When I go home, I'm the exact opposite. I'll just sit around my house, I'll sit on the couch with the TV off. Or I'll go sit outside and look at trees and stuff all day. I do old-man stuff when I leave here."

Sticking with the numbers game, here are five more things to know about Smith:

1. NAME GAME: Though not one of a kind, Mallex is obviously a very rare name. Not surprisingly, it is of unusual origin, starting with the Smiths living in a Tallahassee apartment above a family with a bright son named Alex: "My mom said he was a genius, just the smartest kid. All the boys in my family's names start with M. So they just put an M on top of Alex. That was the situation." His dad and older brother are Michaels; his older sisters are Lauren and Loreal, who, by the way, wore 0 playing high school basketball.

2. GATOR BAIT: A proud Floridian born, raised and schooled in Tallahassee (Rickards High), Smith said he aligns himself with FSU — except when it comes to the Gators. "Nothing against Florida State, I just kind of like Florida a little more," he said. "I get a lot of (grief) for that."

3. THE DO-RUN-RUN: Speed is a huge part of Smith's game, evidenced by his 2014 season at Class A when in 120 games he stole a minors-most 88 bases. And he works hard at it, spending part of his offseason in Gainesville training with Mike Holloway's UF track teams.

4. TWO-STEP SHUFFLE: Smith had an eventful Jan. 11, traded first from the Braves to the Mariners, then a little more than an hour later to the Rays (with two minor-leaguers for left-hander Drew Smyly). Though acknowledging that Seattle general manager Jerry DiPoto looped him in, Smith has fun talking about his "time" with the Mariners. "Some of the best 77 minutes of my life," he said. "It was awesome. The environment was crazy. It was electric. … I'm still getting fan mail from the Mariners fans about all the work I put in over there."

5. HE BELIEVES: Though traded three times and with so-so stats for his 72 games in the majors (.238 average with three homers, .316 on-base, .365 slugging percentage), Smith has no shortage of confidence that his combo of speed, power and talent can make him an impact player. "When I'm out in the field, on base or at bat," he said, "you have to worry about everything."

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