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Tampa Bay Rays excited despite loss in spring training opener

SARASOTA — It certainly didn't feel like spring training, not with the 54-degree first-pitch temperature — colder than all but five games last regular season — that had Rays manager Joe Maddon bundled up in the dugout and the gusty winds that nearly toppled James Shields during warmups and using words like "equilibrium" in his postgame review.

"I've got a hoodie and a heavy jacket on and I'm in Sarasota, Fla., in the springtime," Maddon said. "And I'm going to not probably take this off."

But it still felt like the start of something in a lot of ways, with some pomp and circumstance and a Dick Vitale sighting to mark the Orioles' debut in orange-trimmed Ed Smith Stadium, with the Tampa Bay brass and some members of the ownership group in the stands, as the Rays began the spring prelude to their season of great expectations.

"The sense of renewal is there," Maddon said.

The sense of accomplishment not so much, as the Rays lost 12-2 to the O's, and to the wind, which was primarily responsible for the seven homers, six by Baltimore hitters.

For some, it was a matter of starting over. As bad as 2009 was for catcher Dioner Navarro and centerfielder B.J. Upton, Wednesday couldn't come soon enough.

"I was so looking forward to this day," Navarro said.

"It starts anew — finally," Upton said. "We can get in these games and start working toward this season. For me, 2009 ended in 2009."

For others, it was a matter of getting started. Shields and Matt Garza, the top two members of their rotation, pitched in the same game for (what the Rays hope) the only time this year, and both said it was refreshing to face hitters in another color.

"It's exciting, the first time out," Shields said. "I held my own for my one inning. It's great to be out here, good to have that baseball atmosphere. You walk through the crowd and you hear them yell my name out."

"I had that nervousness kick in," Garza said. "That's when you know you're alive."

For Maddon, it was a matter of starting the next phase of getting the team ready.

He talks a lot about how the process is most important in the spring, and as if to prove it, the positive things he took most out of Wednesday's game were little ones: the changeup Garza threw to strike out Adam Jones, the way Justin Ruggiano went first-to-third as Reid Brignac singled through the hole, how shortstop prospect Tim Beckham "presented" his glove to start a double play.

He also talks a lot about the message, how building the right attitude through spring training is more important to the regular-season success than building up the exhibition W-L record. (And to prove that, he said he doesn't even keep track.) Maddon has returned, in several ways, to the methods that worked in 2008, and one of those central spring themes is for the Rays to play in March as they will in April and May and June and, he hopes, deep into October.

"I want them to hear it more often," Maddon said.

In many ways, Wednesday was just the start.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Orioles 12

Rays 2

Tampa Bay Rays excited despite loss in spring training opener 03/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 10:11am]
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