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Rays Tales: Rays pick their favorite stadiums

When it comes to ballpark aficionados, veteran C Jose Molina might have his teammates beat.

Molina has played in 36 stadiums throughout his career, from the now-demolished Vet and Three Rivers, to the vacated Astrodome, to Wrigley, Fenway and both new and old Yankee Stadium.

"Every open park that's still open," Molina said, smiling. "I've played there."

With the Rays making their first appearance in Marlins Park this weekend — the 39th stadium the organization has played in — we polled players about their favorite places.

The answers varied — but, no, Tropicana Field didn't make many lists. LHP David Price and LHP Jake McGee like Minnesota's Target Field, and RHP Burke Badenhop loves everything at Nationals Park from the bullpens to the clubhouse food.

INF Will Rhymes has a "soft spot" for the Astrodome, considering it was his childhood team. Overall, the Rays appear to appreciate nostalgia over new.

As for Molina? He picked old Yankee Stadium (where he was the last player to hit a homer) and current Busch Stadium, which he said are a little similar.

"The fans love the game, they appreciate the game," Molina said. "The clubhouses are nice. There's a lot of history."

Fenway Park

With apologies to DH Luke Scott, who called Fenway Park a "dump," several Tampa Bay players as well as manager Joe Maddon, top left, picked the Red Sox's home as their favorite.

INF Sean Rodriguez prefers tradition and said he feels like he's a part of history while walking the hallowed grounds, even making a trip inside the Green Monster on one visit.

"Knowing all those great players played on that same field, sat in that same dugout, ran around the same infield," Rodriguez said. "Technically I'm stepping somewhere along the lines of the same spot Ted Williams stepped. It's pretty cool."

LHP J.P. Howell, bottom left, loves the atmosphere, saying it's the "most rowdy place in the league, hands down." Howell said it can get personal, with one fan joking — sort of — that they were going to hit on his wife, Heather.

"It gets heated, but at the end of the day you giggle a little bit," Howell said. "As long as (the trash talk) doesn't come true."

Maddon likes several parks, from the old Yankee Stadium to Anaheim's Angel Stadium to Seattle's Safeco Field, but said, "Purely based on tradition and history, I still dig Fenway."

Wrigley Field

INF Elliot Johnson's family would go to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field once or twice a summer for 10 years, soaking everything in.

"The atmosphere, the smells, the sounds, everything about Wrigley Field is my favorite," Johnson said.

Johnson recalled that in the summer of 1998, when the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and Cubs' Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris' home run record, they'd show up before the gates were open and wait on Waveland Avenue to try to catch balls Sosa hit out in batting practice. He'd then come inside for the Cardinals session and wait for McGwire's blasts. "They would always go over our head," Johnson said. "The only time he'd hit them in the stands is if he missed it."

Home cookin'

When Rays INF Sean Rodriguez plays in his hometown of Miami, it's like a family reunion. He had about two dozen family members and friends come to Friday's and Saturday's games against the Marlins, with more expected today. Rodriguez most looked forward to seeing his grandmother, Aleida Duardo, 73, whom he "misses like crazy." Duardo always makes her best dish, fricase de pollo, for Rodriguez.

"It's chicken, rice, potatoes, with the chicken and potatoes all put together," Rodriguez said. "She marinates it, throws it on the rice, with bananas on the side, just how I like it, with plantains. It's delicious."

Rays rumblings

Manager Joe Maddon had hoped to surprise the team on its "All White" trip to Miami with mojitos drinks on the flight down, but it didn't work out. "It was very disappointing," he quipped. … Quick take on Marlins' new park: love the design, retractable roof and window sight-lines in left, but art sculpture in center out of place and disappointingly sparse crowd Friday. … The Rays are optimistic they can sign first-round pick (No. 25 overall) 3B Richie Shaffer before the July 13 deadline. … The Rays should face Mets RHP R.A. Dickey and LHP Johan Santana in this week's series and are in line to see Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg in their June 19-21 series.

Gotta minute? DH/OF Hideki Matsui

(through interpreter Roger Kahlon)

Favorite meal? Since I grew up near the ocean, I do have a bias toward fish and seafood, so sushi, sashimi.

Best meal you can make? Absolutely nothing.

Bands you'd like to be on stage with? A long time ago I used to listen to Rolling Stones, U2, Aerosmith.

Favorite TV show? If I were to have to choose, ESPN is one I usually watch.

With your wife's permission, dream date? Whether I want to date or not is another question, but I saw Nicole Kidman in Manhattan one day, and my gosh, she was really beautiful.

By JOE SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Rays Tales: Rays pick their favorite stadiums 06/09/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 9:30pm]
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