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Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer

Marc Topkin

Marc Topkin has covered baseball for the Times since 1987 — from the lengthy effort to secure a team, to the awarding of the Tampa Bay franchise in 1995, and through each of the Rays seasons starting in 1998. He has traveled throughout the United States with the team, as well as to Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan, and has covered All-Star Games and the World Series, as well as Super Bowls and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Phone: (727) 893-8801


Blog: The Heater

Twitter: @TBTimes_Rays

  1. Rays' John Jaso looks good in outfield drills

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays officials didn't know what to expect when they raised the idea of putting DH John Jaso, who has spent most of his career as a catcher, in the outfield. And, to be honest, neither did Jaso.

    But, after a week of slow-paced drills, the experiment has gone better than anyone could have expected.

    "He's looked really good," manager Kevin Cash said. "He was reading balls off the bat (in batting practice) and he looked great, and (Monday) the outfielders did their first kind of light throwing, and every ball he threw was right on the line. I think from speaking with him, he's been comfortable with it....

    John Jaso, expected to mostly DH against righties, is showing surprising skills in outfield drills.
  2. Rays: Wide-open field for annual charity golf event

    The Heater

    Taking their swings

    The Rays will leave the fields early today to hit the fairways as all 40-man rostered players and staff will take part in the team's annual charity golf tournament at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. With David Price traded and Jake McGee sidelined, the field seems wide open, with C Curt Casali, RHP Matt Andriese and C Rene Rivera considered among the Rays' best, though they compete with teams of corporate and community partners. "Since David's not here I think I have a good chance to win it," Casali said. "I'm looking forward to having some fun out there."...

  3. Reliever Ernesto Frieri seeks revival under Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — His delivery in need of repair, his reputation as a dominant late-inning reliever tattered after a brutal 2014 season, Ernesto Frieri had a pretty good idea of how to get right.

    Citing turnarounds made by Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit and others before him, Frieri seized on the opportunity to sign with the Rays and become the next project for Jim Hickey's Career Revival Program....

    Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said it's too early to say Ernesto Frieri is "back"  yet, but he is encouraged by what he has seen  on and off the mound. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
  4. Rays starter Alex Cobb earns a save — of this stray dog


    Alex Cobb is the Rays' top starting pitcher, but he earned a save Monday when he chased down and brought home a stray dog that was running loose in traffic.

    Cobb took the dog  back to his Port Charlotte rental home Monday afternoon, and planned to bring him to the Humane Society to be checked out later Tuesday, as the Rays helped put out word — and a picture of the dog — to reporters in hopes of locating the owner. (They also set up an email account:

    Here is the stray dog Alex Cobb found and brought home.
  5. Live from Port Charlotte: Final day of live BP, games in sight


    UPDATE, 2:05: Foley was feeling lightheaded and dehydrated so he went down on one knee in the outfield, which is what drew attention. He was taken in by the trainers and checked out and is fine, manager Kevin Cash said.

    Among the pitchers who impressed Cash today were relievers Jeff Beliveau, Brandon Gomes and Kirby Yates.

    "I think everyone is ready to get going,'' Cash said....

    Ernesto Frieri throws live batting practice today in Port Charlotte.
  6. Rays' Alex Cobb eager to pitch in competitive games

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Alex Cobb can't wait to see the Pirates on Saturday afternoon.

    It's nothing personal, just a matter of the Rays' top starter, after throwing bullpen sessions for months and batting practice for two days, itching to get back in a competitive environment.

    "I'm ready to go," Cobb said after Monday's session. "I'm over throwing bullpens, I'm over throwing live BP, where most of the guys aren't even swinging. I'm just ready to compete, try to get some real outs, have some real fielders. That's the only time you get your real feedback. And you even get a little bit of adrenaline going during spring training. You can work off that, too."...

    Alex Cobb is tired of throwing bullpen sessions and batting practice and wants to get into a game.
  7. Rays: Beckham blast breaks Smyly's windshield

    The Heater

    Hit of the day

    INF Tim Beckham provided the "highlight" of the day, a batting practice blast that shattered the windshield of LHP Drew Smyly's car, which was parked beyond the leftfield fence. After joking that pitching coach Jim Hickey was to blame for grooving the pitch, Beckham said he would make good. "I hope BMW covers that," Beckham said. "If not, meal money will." Smyly was scrambling to see if he could get it repaired ASAP, musing, "I'll find a new spot tomorrow."...

    Tampa Bay Rays infielder Tim Beckham's hit finds pitcher Drew Smyly's windshield in the players lot during Rays Spring Training camp at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 2, 2015.
  8. Nick Franklin confident he'll be Rays' starting shortstop

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — If the biggest question in unscrambling the Rays' muddled middle infield situation is indeed whether Nick Franklin can play shortstop, there may be an easy answer.

    "Absolutely," Franklin said. "Absolutely. One hundred percent. I've grown up playing shortstop. Even at the big-league level, playing short just seems natural to me. I enjoy it. I'm really comfortable there. … It's been in my blood for a long time."...

    Rays infielder Nick Franklin practices in Port Charlotte, fully confident he is ready to start.
  9. Live from Port Charlotte: Day 3 of live BP


    UPDATE, 1:25: The "highlight" of today's workout appeared to be the ball INF Tim Beckham hit during batting pratiice that smashed the windshield of LHP Drew Smyly's car.

    "I hope BMW covers that; if not, meal money will,'' Beckham said.

    Beckham also joked that Smyly take it up with pitching coach Jim Hickey, who was throwing the BP session: "Blame Hickey, he threw it to the barrell.''...

    Drew Smyly's windshield was on the receiving end of Tim Beckham's hit.
  10. Rays' Bobby Wilson bidding for job with hometown team

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Bobby Wilson always has tried to have reasonable expectations.

    Starring roles at Seminole High and St. Petersburg College were enough to get him drafted and signed by the Angels. But he went off to pro ball with meager aspirations and is proud of a career that thus far includes three full seasons as a backup catcher in Anaheim and small parts of three others in the majors....

    Bobby Wilson is a Seminole High and St. Petersburg College product.
  11. Mike Montgomery moving to bullpen in bid to make Rays

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP Mike Montgomery is moving to the bullpen with the idea that it could get him to the major leagues sooner.

    With two potential open spots in the pen — and with their top lefty, Jake McGee, out the first month — the Rays will look at Montgomery working in relief this spring.

    "We felt his best chance to impact us was to get him in some relief roles," manager Kevin Cash said....

    Mike Montgomery, a starter throughout his minor-league career, says he’d expect a “seamless” transition to the bullpen.
  12. Rays: Guyer in awe of MMA star Rousey

    The Heater

    Rousey respect

    OF Brandon Guyer, the Rays' mixed martial arts and UFC expert, had even more respect for Ronda Rousey after her 14-second title defense against Cat Zingano. "I thought that was going to be her toughest test," Guyer said. "Like people are saying, she's the Mike Tyson of MMA right now. … She's a legend." Guyer has done some MMA training but has no interest in a firsthand experience with Rousey. "I wouldn't want to try," he said. "I'm not afraid to admit it, she would probably kick my (butt)."...

    Getty Images
  13. Live from Port Charlotte: Day 2 of live BP


    UPDATE, 1:04: The Rays set their rotation for the first three exhibition games, with RHP Nathan Karns starting the Thursday opener vs. Baltimore, RHP Matt Andriese on Friday vs. Minnesota and RHP Alex Cobb on Saturday vs. Pittsburgh in Bradenton.

    Karns and Andriese are two of the candidates for the open spot in the rotation at the start of the season, along with RHP Alex Colome, who remains delayed by visa issues in the Dominican Republic. RHP Burch Smith is another possibility for that role....

  14. Rays prospect Andrew Bellatti reflects on fatal crash, forgiving widow

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — His words were about the life that was lost.

    Her words were about the life that should be saved.

    If it was by the grace of God that Andrew Bellatti walked away from the accident he caused that killed a man, it was by the grace of the woman he made a widow that he is free to continue his promising pitching career with the Rays.

    Bellatti was 18 and home in the San Diego area after his first pro season on that January 2010 afternoon when he sped across the yellow lines on a rain-slicked road by his old high school, lost control of his Ford Mustang and crashed head-on into a van....

    Andrew Bellatti was a teenager when he lost control of his car and killed a 50-year-old man. Now 23, he is in Rays major-league camp for the first time.
  15. Rays: Tributes to late Don Zimmer begin

    The Heater

    Signs of a Zimmer tribute

    The absence of senior adviser Don Zimmer, who died in June, is felt regularly at Rays camp. Saturday, the team gathered before the first full-squad workout to unveil a way to remember him, naming the path he used to drive his golf cart onto the fields Don Zimmer Way. Baseball operations president Matt Silverman said Charlotte County officials suggested the idea, and the team felt "it was a great way to honor him." 3B Evan Longoria felt the same, calling it "a beautiful tribute" and joking that the cantankerous Zimmer would not have agreed. "I know he'd probably have some criticism of it if he was around," Longoria said....

    WILL VRAGOVIC    |    Times