ST. PETERSBURG — In his boyhood dreams, there wasn't as much insanity.
The way Alex Cobb had it figured, the big club calls, they hand you a ball and a uniform, and then you pitch your heart out as the crowd cheers your major-league debut.
Turns out, reality is a little different. There are people waiting at the airport to be picked up. There are friends calling about tickets. There are relatives you haven't seen, a girlfriend riding out a tornado and a restless night in a hotel bed.
"The first time,'' his father, Rick, said, "was a circus.''
So, yeah, Cobb's first appearance at Tropicana Field, on the first day of May against the Angels, was not exactly the stuff of dreams. He didn't make it through the fifth inning of the Rays' 6-5 loss, and he discovered, to his great surprise, that he was tipping off hitters to what pitches were coming by holding his glove differently for fastballs and off-speed pitches.
That's why Cobb was determined to greet his second big-league appearance, on the final day of May, with a little less anxiety and fanfare Tuesday night.
There was no family reunion at a restaurant the night before. When his father called around noon on Tuesday, Cobb had just gotten out of bed after a nice, peaceful sleep.
And when he took the mound against the Texas Rangers, Cobb finally felt like a big-leaguer. Even if it was his second time around.
"I felt like last time I cheated myself. I didn't pitch the way I'm capable of pitching. I tried to do too much,'' Cobb said. "I wasn't scared, but I was timid. Not knowing what to expect from hitters. Not knowing if I made a good pitch if it would still get ripped.''
Cobb was not dominant against the Rangers, but he was smart and effective. He got himself out of jams, and he kept the ball in the park.
Six innings into the game, he and Texas left-hander C.J. Wilson had matched each other in a 1-1 duel.
Cobb got himself into trouble in the seventh with a pair of singles and a walk before giving way to the bullpen. The final tally was 61/3 innings, three earned runs and one very impressed Rays manager.
"He pretty much validated, confirmed what we thought," Joe Maddon said. "Listen, I liked this guy in spring training. I know what I'm seeing, and I like what I'm seeing. His makeup is good. His stuff is good. He has a good feel for pitching.
"I have a lot of confidence in this guy. I'm not comparing him to (Jeremy) Hellickson, but he is a little bit like Hellickson, the way he pitches and the kind of pitches he throws. Physically they're similar, and the feel for pitching is similar.''
This spot in the rotation in a sense has been the difference between first and second place for the Rays in the American League East. Between Jeff Niemann's rough start and Andy Sonnanstine's struggles, the Rays have gone 2-7 in the No. 4 spot.
Cobb's performance on Tuesday probably guarantees him at least one more start while Niemann continues his minor-league rehabilitation.
"You never know until you're there, until you succeed or not,'' Cobb said. "Now I know I can.''
His girlfriend, Kelly Reynolds, could see the difference in Cobb's demeanor between his first and second big-league starts. There was just a more relaxed feel about him, she said.
Cobb could probably say the same about Reynolds, who just completed her master's degree program at the University of Alabama.
Just over a month ago, Cobb was in a hotel room in Louisville when Reynolds, in Tuscaloosa, called in tears. A tornado, she said, sounded as if it was right outside her door.
Seconds later, the phone went dead.
For two hours, Cobb was frantic. He had no idea Reynolds and her roommate had grabbed a mattress off a bed and huddled underneath it in a bathtub. He had no idea the tornado had leveled an apartment complex nearby but had missed Reynolds' building.
"My roommate told me to come downstairs, but I wasn't really worried. We'd had tornadoes all week,'' Reynolds said. "This time when I looked out the window, it was right there in front of us. It was horrible.
"I was on the phone with him crying and screaming, telling him there was a tornado right outside my window.''
Finally, after Cobb had called everyone he could think of to get word of Reynolds' safety, she was able to get a text message through to him.
A day later, he was called to the majors.
The last time, the Rays pretty much told Cobb it was a one-shot deal and he would be returning to Triple A after his start. This time, no one has said a word to him.
"I don't know what I'm doing. Hopefully I'm on that flight to Seattle (today).
"We'll see,'' Cobb said. "They haven't called me in yet, so I might just sneak on.''