Versatile Reds utilityman Miguel Cairo last of the original 1998 Devil Rays still active

ST. PETERSBURG — Reds utilityman Miguel Cairo has made more than a dozen stops through his pro career, which has spanned more than two decades.

A classic survivor, Cairo, 37, has played for nine big-league clubs, three twice, since getting signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 1990. A career .267 hitter, Cairo has never made more than $1 million in a season and hadn't had a multiyear deal until now.

But as Cairo returned to Tropicana Field on Monday, the Safety Harbor resident had fond memories for where it kind of started, honored to be the last remaining active player from the original 1998 Devil Rays team.

"I'm very thankful and grateful for what I have and for what I've accomplished all these years," Cairo said. "To be the last man standing from that '98 season, it feels good that I'm still playing and that I can do it and I can still help a major-league team. …

"I've still got that fire. I still love it."

It's that passion, along with hard work and discipline, that has gotten Cairo this far. He has also extended his productive career by adapting to a role as a super utilityman, having played every position but pitcher and catcher.

"He doesn't have the greatest talent, compared to guys on (the) roster, but he's probably going to outwork a lot of them, and that's where he gets the respect," said former Tampa Bay closer Roberto Hernandez, an original Ray who retired in 2007. "He'll do all of the dirty work, not the glamorous stuff that comes up on the score sheet. But he's going to get it done."

Cairo had brief stints with Toronto and the Cubs in 1996 and 1997, but it was the Rays — who picked him eighth in the 1997 expansion draft — who gave him his first chance to play every day.

Cairo hit .268 in a career-high 150 games in 1998 on a team that included Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, as well as bench coach Dave Martinez.

"He had a lot of talent," Martinez said of Cairo. "He wanted to play every day, and rightfully so, as he had some good years here. And finally you realize as you get older, you can do a lot more for a club if you learn how to play different positions."

That's exactly what Cairo did after getting released by the Rays in 2000, showing his versatility in three seasons with the Cardinals (2001-03) while coming up clutch in a pinch. He has been in five division series and three league championships, hitting a combined .290, but has never appeared in a World Series game.

Cairo could get more chances with the Reds after signing a two-year, $2 million contract in December. He's hitting .278 in 51 games this year.

While the Reds are Cairo's big-league home, he still has a residence in the area, like several other members of the '98 Devil Rays. Cairo has golfed with Hernandez and hunted with Martinez while spending time with son Christian, 10, daughter Lauren, 6, and wife Nicole.

And when Cairo's playing days are over, Tony La Russa, his former skipper with the Cardinals, feels he could stay in the game as a manager.

"There are probably guys in the minor leagues that are doing it now that I don't know about," La Russa said. "But of the guys that are in the big leagues, he would be at the top of the list."

Cairo, honored by La Russa's compliment, smiled and said, "You never know."

Considering Cairo's career, it'd be hard to doubt him.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

.FAST FACTS

Cairo's career journey

Miguel Cairo's 16-year career has taken many twists and turns since he signed at age 16 out of Venezuela. A member of the original 1998 Devil Rays, Cairo has been on nine big-league teams, three twice, while playing for a couple of others in a minor-league capacity.

1996: Blue Jays

1997: Cubs

1998-2000: Devil Rays

2001: Cubs, Cardinals

2002-03: Cardinals

2004: Yankees

2005: Mets

2006: Yankees

2007: Yankees, Cardinals

2008: Mariners

2009: Phillies

2010-present: Reds

Versatile Reds utilityman Miguel Cairo last of the original 1998 Devil Rays still active 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 12:32am]

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