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Rays Tales: Rays discuss their Olympic (pipe) dreams

Kevin Jepsen slaps hands with catcher Lou Marson during the 2008 Olympics, when the current Rays reliever — who at that point had not yet debuted in the majors — helped the U.S. team win the bronze medal.

Associated Press (2008)

Kevin Jepsen slaps hands with catcher Lou Marson during the 2008 Olympics, when the current Rays reliever — who at that point had not yet debuted in the majors — helped the U.S. team win the bronze medal.

Kevin Jepsen actually has been in the Olympics.

The Rays veteran reliever was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team in the 2008 Beijing Games, the last time baseball was contested, playing alongside fellow future big-leaguers Jake Arrieta, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Strasburg.

"It was awesome," Jepsen said last week. "It was great."

Jepsen hadn't been in the majors yet, spending the first part of the 2008 season at Double and Triple A, so at that point playing in the Olympics — and living in the Olympic Village, mingling with athletes from other sports and countries — was his greatest baseball thrill.

"The whole experience was just sweet," he said. "The ceremony at the end, where you're standing up and they come and put a medal on you, that was really cool."

Though there was some quirkiness to the international rules, Jepsen said the simplicity of the goal was refreshing. "It does feel different," he said. "You're playing for something completely different. It takes the whole business part of it out. You go back to where it's just all about winning ball games."

In the spirit of the current Rio Games, we asked Jepsen and other Rays players and coaches what current Olympic sport they would like to try or, in some cases, which do they know they couldn't even muster the courage to try.

Some of the best responses:

Manager Kevin Cash: Archery

Drawing on his hunting experience, archery was his quick answer. "Just because I'm really good at that," Cash said. "I'm good at two things: I was a great Little League baseball player, and I can shoot a bow. I use a hunting bow, but I've shot those (Olympic-style) bows. That's no joke what they do."

Pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coach Derek Shelton: Synchronized diving

Jesting, we think, both said they'd like to pair up for synchronized diving. Shelton wasn't sure he would have the nerve for the high board but said, "It'd be fun to try." Hickey, suggesting the two could go representing their motherland, suggested a routine "based on Lithuanian folklore." And as far as their outfits? "Speedos for sure," Hickey said. "Heck yes."

3B Evan Longoria: Team handball

"The handball that's in the Olympics is not the same handball that we think of. There's not a whole lot of running, it's a shorter court, it's a lot of jumping and throwing and team movement. I feel like it would be pretty fun to run around and see what it's all about. I feel like it would be a sport I could be good at, that I could challenge in."

CF Kevin Kiermaier: Multiple

Arguably the best athlete on the team, Kiermaier has been watching extensively and marveling at the ability required to excel in a number of the sports. And he is pretty confident he could not do any of them well.

Diving: "I'd be petrified. I jumped off a 30-foot high dive once, but that was feet-first. I could not imagine doing flips. … I can't dive. That's something I know I couldn't do."

Volleyball: "How hard they serve it with the jump serve and how hard they hit it amazes me. Every one of those guys jumps out of the gym. It's impressive. Especially when they do the slo-mo (replays) and you see how high they get off the ground and the downward angle they get. And then some of the balls they dig out. I don't know how they do that. … I'm so bad at volleyball."

Gymnastics: "I couldn't do any of it. No. None. Zero percent chance. And I'm going to accept it. I'll stick to baseball."

Field hockey: "Wouldn't want to do that."

Freestyle swimming: "I feel like that's the fastest way you can swim. How fast they move through the water is impressive."

Synchronized diving: "That was amazing. Everything they did before the dive was the same, the dive was the same, and they hit the water within a fraction of a second. It looked like a mirror."

RHP Jake Odorizzi: Track and field

"I wouldn't be able to do gymnastics, I'm not very flexible. I would have to say the javelin. That's pretty similar to throwing. It would take some learned skills, but we all throw things for a living, so it seems like that would be right up our alley."

RHP Kevin Jepsen: Track and field

If he got to go back to the Olympics, Jepsen finds beach volleyball interesting, but he has a similar theory about a throwing event: "I've got more of a shot put body type than a swimmer or a sprinter."

C Luke Maile: Beach volleyball

Though growing up and going to college in Kentucky, Maile considers himself "more of a beach guy," so it's not a surprise he'd like to try beach volleyball. Nor that at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he would not necessarily play it well. "There's none of these I'd be good at," he said. "But with beach volleyball at least you're out in the sun. And I've always been a beach guy, so I feel like that's the closest thing to my personality." High-board diving, he said, would be a big no: "I could do a cannonball off that, that's about where my skills begin and end on that." As for something like gymnastics, being a pro athlete and all? "I don't see myself on the rings," he said. "Anything more than 5 feet off the ground I'm going to fall and probably going to get hurt, so I don't see myself trying that."

OF Steven Souza Jr.: Team handball

After asking SoCal native Longoria about water polo — and hearing how hard it is — Souza also settled on team handball. "That seems pretty exciting," he said. "There's a lot of throwing, some quick agility, some jumping, a little bit of defense, some contact. … I might be able to give it a shot if I train for a few years."

RHP Brad Boxberger: Table tennis

Playing with friends, and, interestingly, playing left-handed — the only thing he doesn't do with his right — Boxberger said he is pretty good. But watching the Olympic style of play was eye-opening. "I've got a pretty good swing, but not as good as they've got," he said. "They scoot back like 10-12 feet and still hit the table. They get after it."

RHP Chris Archer: None of the above

"I couldn't do any of it. What they have to go through and how special their talents are, I don't even like trying to fathom what I would do. It's kind of like somebody from another sport trying to fathom what we do or experience what we do."

Short stops

Can't see the Rays going down either of these roads, but who would be the bigger distraction in Port Charlotte next spring, having Alex Rodriguez or Tim Tebow in camp? The idea that the Rays would "sell tickets" by signing the beloved Tebow is not valid, unless you're talking about Princeton, W.Va., or Port Charlotte, as he would be in the minors for a long time.

Rays rumblings

Over the past five days in Toronto and New York, the Rays played in front of 220,588; that's roughly the equivalent of their past 14 home games. … One name to watch for a September callup is RHP Ryne Stanek, the hard-throwing 2013 first-rounder who has made an impressive transition to the bullpen and is now at Triple A. … An, I think, interesting tidbit to come out of the weekend in New York: Evan Longoria has driven by but has yet to be invited to Derek Jeter's Tampa manse. … Released by the Rays in the spring and on his third independent league team, Dan Johnson, at 37, is still trying to make it as a knuckleball pitcher, 3-2, 4.13 in five starts for his hometown St. Paul Saints.

Rays Tales: Rays discuss their Olympic (pipe) dreams 08/13/16 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2016 11:24pm]
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