ST. PETERSBURG — Driving into the manicured baseball complex formerly known as Naimoli, Bobby Seay couldn't help having flashbacks.
"It was crazy," Seay said. "It felt like 1999 again. It was really weird. I'm looking around for Wilson Alvarez and Rolando Arrojo, but they're just not around."
They weren't, but some other names from the Rays' — more accurately, the Devil Rays' — past are joining Seay, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, in what amounts to a pre-spring training minicamp.
Toby Hall is there, working to show his shoulder troubles are behind him and he is ready, at age 35, to get back behind the plate. Dewon Brazelton, he of the eight major-league wins, is throwing in hopes, at age 30, of getting back to the bigs for the first time since 2006. Also there is Jason Johnson, who last pitched for the Dodgers in 2008.
The camp is supervised by Larry Mayol, a former Mets trainer who runs the Star Care rehabilitation center in Largo. That the former Rays players have been working out for the past month — amid the collegians in the Beach State Baseball training program and the Koreans of the Seoul Nexen Heroes pro team — on the former Rays spring fields has made it all the more interesting.
"This is where it all started," Hall said. "It's one of those things like going back to your old high school field and all of a sudden looking around and you see those memories."
"A lot of old memories," Seay said. "It made me feel a little older than I should feel, probably."
Seay was 18 when he first signed, a $3 million bonus baby due to a draft loophole, and he went on to pitch parts of eight seasons in the majors, with a reasonable run of success in Detroit 2006-09.
But soreness in his shoulder last spring led to September surgery (labrum, rotator cuff, biceps tendon sheath), and the requisite rehab is what led him to Mayol and five-day-a-week workouts on the old field.
Seay knows the process takes time. With no setbacks, he hopes to be throwing off a mound in April and pitching in games by July or August. "My agent told me just get healthy, and if you're healthy, we're not going to have any problem finding a job somewhere," he said.
For the others, it's not that easy. Brazelton is pretty much off the radar, having gone from being the No. 3 pick of the 2001 draft (ahead of Mark Teixeira) to the Rays' 2005 opening-day starter to Double A with the Pirates in 2007 to independent leagues the past two years.
Hall wants teams to know he's again healthy, having played with the Rays, Dodgers and White Sox from 2000-08. He considered the Rangers' offer to go into coaching when he tried unsuccessfully to come back too soon from surgery last spring. He also could just live comfortably with his family in Tampa after about $8 million in career earnings, but he decided he wasn't ready to give up.
The shoulder pain that forced him to leave the Astros' spring camp in 2009 and to April surgery is finally gone — "100 percent" — and he's feeling great and looking fit, down 20 pounds to 230: "I feel like I'm 25 again."
But camps are opening next week, and he has nowhere to go. He's seeking no more than the minimum salary and is willing to go to Triple A for a month or two, and if not there, to the independent leagues.
"It's been frustrating, but I just need to get back on the map and show everybody I'm healthy again," Hall said. "Teams have seen the history of me breaking down the last two springs, and I get that. But they don't know how I am now. And that's why I'm coming out here."
Taking a step back in time to go forward.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]