Matt Garza's spicy love affair started about six years ago during a college weekend road trip. He was in Houston when a buddy introduced him to what he called "the best chicken you'll ever eat," and Garza, right, quickly became hooked on the spicy fried speciality of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. He'd seek it out when he was on the road. Then he found one close to his hometown near Fresno, Calif. "So every time I wanted fried chicken, I'd go to Popeyes," Garza said. He had it as a pregame meal early in the 2008 season and pitched well, and from there it became a regular thing.
"I just started doing it and carried on, and I haven't changed my routine," he said. "The biggest start when it clicked was when I got it for Game 7 (of the 2008 American League Championship Series). I brought it in and just ate it myself and caught a lot of (heat) from everybody. So after that, I started to bring it in for everybody else."
Any night Garza starts now, he makes arrangements for boxes of the chicken, 48-60 pieces plus side orders (including his favorite, red beans and rice), to be delivered to the clubhouse, even if it means sending a clubhouse kid 15 miles outside of town, like in Seattle.) Garza eats first; then the rest of the Rays help themselves.
Garza isn't the only big name who gets a Popeyes fix.
The three singers in Destiny's Child liked it enough that Popeyes awarded them Chicken for Life cards, with Beyonce, below top, going so far as to serve it at her wedding to Jay-Z, alongside caviar and shrimp scampi.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan, middle right, quickly developed a taste (the team's veterans have the rookies buy before road games). The Vikings had a similar ritual.
David Letterman, bottom right, has a thing for their biscuits, and he gets a lifetime supply as well.
"Popeyes is a fan favorite among many sports athletes and teams throughout the U.S.," said communications coordinator Kelsey Schmitt. "Every season we hear entertaining stories about ritual meals, celebratory meals and even rookie initiations. We want to thank athletes, celebrities and Popeyes lovers alike for their continued support of our New Orleans-inspired food and atmosphere. We wish Tampa Bay Ray Matt Garza the best of luck this season," With a 5-1 mark, Garza will take it. A Chicken for Life card would be even better.
With interleague play starting this week, the Rays appear to have an edge over the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of opponents and travel. A look at the combined winning percentage of each team's opponents through Friday:
Rays, .479: at Astros, Marlins, at Braves, at Marlins, Padres, Diamondbacks
Yankees, .481: at Mets, Astros, Phillies, Mets, at Diamondbacks, at Dodgers
Red Sox, .527: at Phillies, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, at Rockies, at Giants
Excerpt of the week
From Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal: "Here the Rays are, the best and most exciting team in baseball, blessed with a creative front office and progressive ownership. And they're screwed. … The bottom line: Even if the Rays did everything right — built a state-of-the-art facility, generated the same momentum that the Twins did before moving into Target Field — success hardly would be guaranteed."
Of all the Houston "homecomings" for this week's games with the Astros (Carl Crawford, Jeff Niemann, Jim Hickey, Andrew Friedman), most interesting should be that of senior VP Gerry Hunsicker, who returns for the first time (except for a college game) since being ditched as Astros GM after the 2004 season and dissed by owner Drayton McLane. … Expect Cuban OF/1B Leslie Anderson to move up to Double-A Montgomery within a month. … Cuban LHP Sergio Espinosa, 25 and a former closer, is throwing in extended spring and likely to soon join Class A Charlotte. … A common theme of both perfect games thrown against the Rays: Ken Ravizza, their performance consultant/sports psychologist, was in the house. … Retired RHP Troy Percival visited at Angel Stadium and looked to be in better shape than when he was pitching last season. … Ex-Rays LHP Brian Shouse, released this spring by the Red Sox, is working as a volunteer assistant coach with Peoria (Ill.) Christian School.
Got a minute? | Joaquin Benoit
Best meal you can make?
Rice and beans with chicken cordon bleu.
George Lopez's show.
remolacha.net; it's news from the Dominican Republic.
Who'd play you in a movie?
Probably Matt Damon.
Making that list is hard. Put down Ruth Ocumarez. She's Miss Dominican Republic 2002.