PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon has a number of reasons to say he is more excited about this spring training than any of his 34 other pro seasons.
There's that AL championship and manager of the year award he and the Rays won last year, some key additions to their still young nucleus, the increased levels of respect and recognition they now have, the validation and quiet confidence of knowing his methods work (and that he's likely to be rewarded at some point this year with a lucrative contract extension).
But what he seems most thrilled about?
The Rays' new spring setup in Port Charlotte and what impact it will have on the organization.
The actual facilities — with the sparkling stadium, 5½ practice fields, indoor and outdoor batting cages and a major-league quality weight room and clubhouse — have drawn plenty of raves. One difference: The Rays will be able to continue team and individual drills once the games start; in the past, they were very limited with only an extra half field at Progress Energy Park. "It's virtually unlimited what we can do," Maddon said.
But it's also what the Rays can do with it.
By having the major- and minor-league camps on the same site for the first time, they not only will have the chance to see more players, but Maddon envisions an "exchange program" that helps both ends of the organization — for example, having Carlos Pena talk to the minor-leaguers one morning about his batting approach and having minor-league pitching coordinator Dick Bosman come over to teach his specialty pickoff move. "It's such a wonderful opportunity right now to bring this entire organization together," Maddon said.
There's also a benefit in being camped here together rather than operating out of their regular-season base in St. Petersburg. "Being away from the home turf like that, I think it's going to encourage guys to get together more post-workout to just talk (and) as a coaching staff we can do the same, so there's a lot of positives involved in being here," he said.
ODD ODDS: As if the steroids saga wasn't bad enough, an online betting service, Betus.com, last week posted "odds" — though it is not taking actual bets — on which player is next "most likely" to be "outed" based, according to analyst Reed Richards, on stats, trends and 10 years of research.
Among their "favorites": Pena and Mark Teixeira at 3-1; Adam Dunn 4-1; Lance Berkman, Carlos Delgado, Jim Edmonds and Manny Ramirez 5-1.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Nice touch awaiting new No. 5 Pat Burrell in the Port Charlotte clubhouse: the adjacent locker, marked with No. 5½, for his 125-pound English bulldog, Elvis. … Willy Aybar's arbitration hearing was "delayed" from Friday only because he needs to take a physical today for his new two-year deal with an option to be official. … Baseball Prospectus, which forecast last year's success by predicting a then-shocking 88 wins, projects the Rays to win 92 — but finish third. … With limited offers for Ramirez, his agent, Scott Boras, blamed Burrell, telling murraychass.com that agent Greg Genske "took a bad deal" from the Rays (two years, $16 million) and created "a frozen market" for corner outfielders. (And that was before Bobby Abreu took a one-year, $5 million deal from the Angels). … Soon-to-be-announced TV analyst Kevin Kennedy authored a 2006 book, Twice Around the Bases.