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Revisiting Philadelphia stirs emotions in Tampa Bay Rays players

PHILADELPHIA — Given how they felt when they walked out on that cold October night, walking back into Citizens Bank Park on Friday was an understandably odd experience for the Rays.

"It was kind of weird, I'll admit that," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was kind of strange."

Memories of losing the World Series came back quickly as the Rays filed into the clubhouse, some heading to the same lockers they sat in front of in disbelief. "At least," reliever J.P. Howell said, "I'm not crying like a little baby this time."

Whatever pain they felt, whatever bad feelings arose, Maddon decided it was a good thing.

"I hope all of our players capture all that and have it kind of inspire us through the rest of the season knowing how close we had come," he said. "You can forget that. A lot of times I think with what we do, and maybe just in life in general, you file things a little bit too quickly sometimes.

"You don't learn, I don't want to say from your mistakes, but learn from what we had gone through. And know how much we enjoyed it. That's what I want them to understand — how much did we enjoy that, that playoff run last year, and how much fun it was. And it's something we'd like to do on an annual basis. Maybe this stirred all that up, because it did in me today."

James Shields felt the same way. As disappointed as the Rays were then, the pitcher said they should be inspired now.

"It feels a little weird, but it feels good," he said. "Maybe this will give us a little incentive. It's an inspiration for us being here. We've got a little chip on our shoulders to lose the World Series and come back here for the first game."

Inspiration can be hatched in the most unusual ways.

For the Rays, it was a September call from a Phillies official asking if they would be interested in playing a couple of exhibitions at Citizens Bank Park on their way to open the season at Boston.

Unable to arrange some spring-ending games at Tropicana Field, the Rays agreed, figuring, with the Phillies covering their expenses, it was a good way to transition to the cold weather. Team president Matt Silverman even wished the Phillies, who were in second place at the time, luck and said, "We hope to see you in the Series."

Call it coincidence, call it karma, call it ironic given how the Rays complained at the time how rudely their families and guests were treated in the stands.

Maddon called it perfect.

"It's all just a coincidence because this was all done well in advance, but to have it happen here …" he said. "I'm going to talk to our guys about it at some point — just remember the feeling. We did great, but remember how much we didn't like the end of what happened here at the end of the season and see if it can serve to push us in the right direction."

The day didn't start well for the Rays, who were soaked and shivering the last time they were here, and they thought it might happen again as bad weather delayed their departure. They sat in their plane at St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport for several hours, but at least when they arrived, at around 3:30 p.m., conditions were considerably better than their last visit.

"Just about 30 degrees warmer, no wind and no rain," pitcher Scott Kazmir said.

Shields had his own problems. He dropped his iPod as the stadium elevator doors opened and looked down as it slipped through the narrow opening on the floor. Then he looked up to see the Phillies' Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino laughing.

But a stadium maintenance man was able to help, and Shields got his iPod back. "I don't know how they found it," he said. "But it's a good sign."

One of many they're hoping.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Revisiting Philadelphia stirs emotions in Tampa Bay Rays players 04/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 12:05am]
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