Friday's promotional T-shirts were a little different than the usual ballpark giveaways. That's because they were designed by one of the ballplayers. When Rays staffers approached James Shields this spring with plans for a T-shirt handout, they said they were open to his input. And Shields, whose usual wardrobe pretty much starts and stops with designer T-shirts, was happy to provide plenty.
"They wanted to do some sun bursts and stuff like that, but I was like why not do something more current, more hip, that maybe people would wear outside the stadium," Shields said. "They did a phenomenal job." The pitcher made several suggestions: The facing skulls/baseballs with flames, the "big game" nickname under the collar, his No. 33 across the bottom, the addition of artwork on the back. Staff designer Mike Nolasco took it from there. Marketing/promotions director Brian Killingsworth said it's the first player-designed T-shirt giveaway he has heard of, and they think "it turned out great." Shields already has a creative side — he cooks, has played the trumpet, his wife, Ryane, has a photography business — was pleased and didn't rule out more fashion designing in the future: "We'll see how it goes."
The Rays are heading west this week, which means a lot of them are heading home as eight players, plus 1B coach George Hendrick, grew up in California. How they were shaped by the California lifestyle, and what they think of it now, are a matter of perspective, and location. Evan Longoria, Gabe Kapler, James Shields and Hendrick are from SoCal, and manager Joe Maddon has lived there on and off for nearly 20 years. Jason Bartlett, Pat Burrell, Matt Garza, J.P. Howell and John Jaso all grew up in NorCal. And don't, for a minute, think it's the same thing. "It's two different states," Maddon said. The NorCals talk about rural areas, outdoors adventures, wine country and the sophistication of the San Francisco area. The SoCals rave about the beach and the sun and the surf. "Dude and Bro are big words in SoCal," Shields said. Either way, they seem to agree, it's still a, um, special place. "You can do something really weird and it would be weird in every other state, but if you do it in California, it's normal," Howell said. "And if you do something normal, that's the odd part in California. It's a little flip-flopped. It's just different."
Got a minute? Jeff Niemann
Best meal you can make? Tacos and burritos with my special hand-made guac.
Late-night TV? Either hunting shows or South Park.
Karaoke song if you had to? I can make anything work if I had to, but probably something country like George Strait.
Time-killer at the mall? The coffee shop, because nothing fits me at the mall stores.
Dream date? Gabrielle Reece (the 6-foot-3 St. Petersburg-schooled volleyball player/model).
Excerpt of the week
From Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers, on the "ridiculous" low attendance: "While fans in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles endure nasty commutes to go to games, Tampa residents act like a $100 tariff is required to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge to get to Tropicana Field. Here's some unsolicited advice — get over it.”
The way the Angels rotation is set, LHP Scott Kazmir should face the Rays in the May 11 game. … There are some interesting stories on baseballwifeblog.com, headed by Nicole Johnson (wife of Durham INF Elliot) and featuring contributions from Jamie Cormier (Lance), Katelyn Davis (Wade) and Shelly Ruggiano (Justin). … Clever opening by radio guy Dave Wills at the St. Pete Chamber luncheon: "I'm not accustomed to talking in places where every seat is filled." … In his new deal, 2B/RF Ben Zobrist gets $4.5 million in 2011 and 2012 and $5.5 million in 2013. … This is the first time in their 13 seasons the Rays (logically) play all three West Coast teams on the same trip. … At Durham, OF Fernando Perez has abandoned switch-hitting, swinging only from the right side. … RHP Matt Bush hit 98 mph during an extended spring game and 96 in his debut with Class A Charlotte. … Mets phenom 1B Ike Davis was a 19th-round pick by the Rays in 2005 but opted for Arizona State. … Zobrist is on the cover of the May issue of Sharing the Victory, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazine.