PORT CHARLOTTE — Bucs head coach Raheem Morris figured he had the baseball managing thing down. "All I've got to do," he said Tuesday morning, "is look real serious and spit seeds."
Then he watched the Rays and one of his assistant coaches, Eric Yarber, go through batting practice and pregame drills. He brought the lineup card to home plate, where the umpires posed with him for a photo. He went to the mound to make a pitching change, removing Josh Johnson, er, James Shields in the fourth.
And when the 3-plus-hour game ended, with the Rays scoring a 3-2 walkoff win in 10 innings, Morris pumped his fist, pointed a finger in the air and bounded out of the dugout holding up the game ball — everything but a chest bump — to cap his day as Joe Maddon's designated manager of the Rays.
"I'm 1-0," Morris said. "It was awesome, man. The best part about it was being down there and listening to those guys go through the strategy and go through all the motions, it really made me feel a part of the game. That was the most locked-in I've ever been to a baseball game, and it was the fastest game I've ever been to in my life."
Maddon was as thrilled with the experience as the result: "It was all about Raheem."
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Maddon and Morris have become good friends, meeting up for an occasional meal, or at least a beverage, around south Tampa. So it was a natural progression for Maddon to suggest a spring training get-together, further bridging the relationship between the franchises.
And despite their one major philosophical difference — remember Morris' pronouncement that "stats are for losers" — they have found a lot to talk about: communication with players, leadership styles, team-building.
For example, the Rays — adding to the frivolity — started the morning with a golf long-drive contest on a back field. After seeing the camaraderie, Morris said to expect the Bucs to do the same.
"Every time I sit around this man, I pick up something," Morris said.
And the feeling is mutual. "I enjoy bouncing things off of him," Maddon said. "He's got a lot of great ideas."
And as for that stats line, given Maddon's infatuation with the numbers game? "Two different sports," Morris said. "This game is built on stats."
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Morris couldn't resist doing some coaching, and a little scouting. He said he could imagine using Evan Longoria as a strongside linebacker (citing his toughness and "swagger") and B.J. Upton as a defensive back alongside Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib — though Upton made abundantly clear his preference to avoid contact.
"Joe got him to run the bases hard now," Morris said. "So I can get him to tackle."
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Morris looked on in jeans as Yarber, who last played baseball in high school some 30 years ago, went through four rounds of batting practice against former big-leaguer Dave Eiland, with equal parts encouragement and teasing ("Stop being so spastic," Longoria joked). He then took ground balls at second base, getting better as he went.
Morris had no intention of stepping on the field, then Maddon invited him to manage with him from the dugout — or "the box," as Morris first called it — and he changed into full uniform.
Tim Tschida's umpiring crew was obviously impressed to see him. And Shields was a bit surprised when Morris bounced from the dugout, signaled expertly for the lefty reliever and headed to the mound.
"He walked to the mound, and he's like, 'So, what do we do now?' " Shields relayed. "I was like, 'You're supposed to get the ball from me.' And he's like, 'Oh, okay, then hand me the ball.' Then he's like, 'So, what are we doing after the game? Is this what we're supposed to talk about out there?' It was pretty funny."
"It was awesome," Morris said. "Did you see my signal? I looked pretty cool doing it, too."
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.