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Tampa Bay Rays Tales: Star Trek fan Joe Nelson hopes to pitch long and prosper.

Joe Nelson figures there's got to be a movie tie-in. An invitation to a premiere. At least a photo op. The new Star Trek movie is coming out and, if you want to talk about product placement, consider that every time Nelson is on the mound he's throwing his special changeup called the Vulcan, named after the gesture from the Star Trek characters. "I keep waiting for the guest appearance," Nelson joked. "If they want me to do an endorsement, or invite me to a premiere or something, I'd definitely go."

Nelson clung on to the Vulcan changeup through a pair of decisions.

One came after his Seminole (Okla.) Junior College coach, who played him at shortstop and third but saw his potential as a pro pitcher, told him he needed to come up with a split-finger type of pitch.

Uncomfortable with the traditional grip between his index and middle fingers, Nelson one day moved the ball to between his middle and ring fingers — "I just jammed it in there one day" — and it worked. He began throwing it regularly at the University of San Francisco and never stopped.

Then, of course, he had to decide what to call it. "Old enough" at 34 to have watched Star Trek TV show reruns (and, apparently, lots of other questionable shows) in addition to several of the movies, he figured that was the way to go.

"It was either going to be Nanu Nanu from Mork & Mindy, or the Vulcan," Nelson said. "And Spock just seemed like a cooler character than Mork did."

Nelson started stretching his fingers with a golf ball, then a baseball and now a softball, with no damage to the webbing, though he has resisted suggestions to expand further. He uses that grip at the start of every pitch, his fingers essentially on the sides of the ball.

He kids that others, such as Eric Gagne, don't throw the true Vulcan and jokes about patenting the grip. Really, he'd dig some red-carpet treatment.

"I wouldn't say I'm a Trekkie, but I've become more of one watching all the repeats," Nelson said. "A long time ago, my agent told me when you get to the big leagues you'll be a marketer's dream, we'll get you there with Leonard Nimoy, he just didn't think it would take me 12 or 13 years to ever amount to anything," Nelson said. "But there is the new movie coming out, so you never know. They may be calling me."

Seeking perfection

Save for Jacoby Ellsbury's seventh-inning infield hit on Thursday, Matt Garza, top left, had a rare chance for perfection. How rare is it? There have been only 17 perfect games in major-league history, and four were 1908 or earlier, and one (Don Larsen) was in the postseason. But, of course, some Rays have seen history. Bench coach Dave Martinez was in rightfield for the Expos, and third-base coach Tom Foley on the bench, when Dennis Martinez, below left, was perfect against the Dodgers on July 28, 1991. "It was unbelievable," Martinez said. "Nerve-wracking. Any ball hit in the air, I was like, 'Marquis (Grissom, the centerfielder), you catch it.' It was something." Joe Maddon was new on the job as bullpen coach when the Angels were blanked by Texas' Kenny Rogers on July 28, 1994. "I remember sitting out there thinking that we're in Texas, you'd think somebody would get a hit," Maddon said. Senior adviser Don Zimmer has witnessed three: He was a member of the Dodgers (though not active) when they got blanked by Larsen in the 1956 World Series and was a coach for the Yankees when David Wells threw his in May 1998 and when David Cone threw his in July 1999. "That just means I'm old," Zimmer said. "The way Garza was going the other night, I thought for sure it was going to happen."

Rays Rumblings

Is there a reason Matt Garza isn't paired that often with C Dioner Navarro? Over the past two seasons, Garza has a 4.15 ERA with Navarro, 3.13 with Michel Hernandez and Shawn Riggans. … Team officials are hoping to present rings in person to as many former players as they can; Rocco Baldelli got his Friday, others, such as Jonny Gomes, playing for Triple-A Louisville, haven't yet. … If "average" is the goal for attendance, Friday's crowd of 27,045 was there as seven teams drew more and seven less. … In an article that had other quotes from commissioner Bud Selig, ESPN's Jayson Stark says there are "potential crises lurking" for the Rays and A's if "new ballpark solutions don't emerge at some point in the near future" and suggests San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas; and Mexico as relocation options.

Got a minute Gabe Kapler

Best meal you can make? Pan-fried salmon over wild rice.

Band you'd most want to be on stage with? I'll go with the White Stripes.

Skill you have people would be surprised to know? I can write.

Karaoke song if you had to? I'd probably do Metallica, and do One.

Favorite Boston-area hangout? Beacon Street in Brookline.

With your wife's permission, dream date? Give me a second on that … Michelle Obama.

April fools?

How big a hole were the Rays in finishing April 9-14 and 5½ games out of first? According to ESPN's Jayson Stark:

20 of 112Playoff teams since the 1995 advent of the wild card (18 percent) that were under .500 at the end of April.

10 of 160 Playoff teams since 1982 (6.25 percent) that were more than three games under .500. (And since 1935 only one team, the 1979 Pirates, won the World Series after being more than three games under in April.)

28 of 132 Teams that finished first over the past 26 full seasons (21 percent) that were more than 2½ games out on April 30.

Tampa Bay Rays Tales: Star Trek fan Joe Nelson hopes to pitch long and prosper. 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 7:35pm]
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