ST. PETERSBURG — About three weeks ago, Royals right-hander James Shields realized that, against pretty good odds, he wouldn't get to start during this four-game series at Tropicana Field against his former Rays teammates.
"I was trying to finagle the schedule a little bit to pitch against these guys," Shields, 31, said Thursday, "but we kept the same rotation."
Though disappointing in that regard, returning to his home for seven years was rewarding. "A lot of good memories, a lot of happy times, a lot of good friends," he said.
Rather than drive his truck from his Clearwater home, which he has a deal to sell, Shields took a shuttle from the Royals' downtown St. Petersburg hotel. And, of course, he had to walk by the Rays clubhouse to the visitors' side.
"It's definitely weird," he said.
His wife, Ryane, flew in Wednesday night with their two daughters from their new offseason house in San Diego, and they'll see as many old friends as they can, hoping to run by their old neighborhood.
"We'll always have a place in our hearts for this community," Shields said. "This is our home."
He still keeps up and keeps in touch with many of his ex-teammates, saying David Price texts him for advice and how proud he is of Alex Cobb. The Rays showed a video tribute to Shields during Thursday's game. He acknowledged a nice ovation with a wave and tip of the cap, calling it "very classy."
Shields, traded in December for a package headlined by prospect Wil Myers, has pitched well for the Royals, with a 2.79 ERA that ranks seventh in the American League. But he has only two wins — the last one coming when he beat the Rays on April 30 — given a somewhat-familiar lack of run support.
"I'm very happy with the way I've been pitching," he said. "I'll keep grinding it out."
Some things never change.