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Rays who played for Piniella remember him fondly

ST. PETERSBURG — Having to face his major-league best Cubs for the next three nights might not be too fun, but the Rays who played for Lou Piniella are looking forward to seeing their former manager.

"Everybody still remembers Lou around here," LF Carl Crawford said. "We still remember like it was yesterday. We can still feel Lou around here a little bit. I can."

"It's always nice to see him. Me and Lou, we never had no problems or anything like that. I learned a lot just watching him manage on a day-to-day basis. It's easy for me to say playing for him actually helped my development in the big leagues a lot, so I'm thankful for that."

So is Scott Kazmir, who was a 20-year-old just up from Double A when he made his major-league debut under Piniella in August 2004.

"He was my first manager ever in the big leagues and he's definitely one of the best, so it will be exciting to see him," Kazmir said.

Reliever Trever Miller said he wished the Rays had done better when Piniella was in charge. "We didn't win as much as he was used to winning," Miller said, "and he just could not handle the losing, and did not handle it well. … I'm glad to see he's back doing well."

LARRY, TOO: Tonight also marks the first trip back to Tropicana Field for original Rays manager Larry Rothschild, now in his seventh season as Cubs pitching coach.

Only two men who played for Rothschild during his 1998-2001 tenure are still in a Rays uniform — reliever Dan Wheeler and bench coach Dave Martinez.

"He's a good guy," Martinez said. "I think everyone knows he had his hands tied. I think he got blamed for more than was his fault. He had a tough group, trying to blend young kids who didn't have a lot of experience with some veteran guys."

"I enjoyed playing for him," Wheeler said. "The easiest thing was for people to blame him for what was going on and that wasn't necessarily right."

BEACH REPORT: OF Rocco Baldelli went 1-for-3 with two walks and two RBIs as the DH on Monday in the first game of his rehab assignment at Class A Vero Beach. He had been sidelined since spring training with a rare condition that causes muscle fatigue in his legs. … LHP David Price started in Vero's 7-2 victory over Brevard, allowing one run with seven strikeouts and two walks in five innings. If Price stays on schedule, he will not pitch when Vero is in Clearwater next week, but will start June 26 in Sarasota.

PENALTY BOX: Further clarification is expected today on when RHP Edwin Jackson will start his five-game suspension — it could be tonight, it could be Thursday (after James Shields completes his) or it could be delayed if he appeals. … Crawford serves the last of his four-game suspension tonight, and 2B Akinori Iwamura is expected to start his three-game ban Wednesday.

MISCELLANY: Carlos Pena remained fourth among first baseman in AL All-Star balloting with 368,640 votes; Crawford (431,864) is 13th and B.J. Upton (371,480) 15th among outfielders. … The Rays today will announce plans to renovate youth league fields at Azalea Little League in St. Petersburg (2900 75th St. N, 1 p.m. with Evan Longoria present) and Thursday at South Brandon (600 Parsons Ave., 10 a.m., with Kazmir). … After averaging 26,465 fans for the three-game series with the Marlins, the Rays expect large crowds for the Cubs games and advise fans to make advance purchases.

Rays who played for Piniella remember him fondly 06/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 9:04am]

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