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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

Email: topkin@tampabay.com

Blog: The Heater

Twitter: @TBTimes_Rays

  1. Ex-Rays coach George Hendrick visits camp

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — George Hendrick stopped by Rays camp Wednesday to say hello — and goodbye.

    Replaced as first-base coach and reassigned to a special adviser role with no defined duties, Hendrick, 65, said he did not expect to be around the team much so he wanted to visit before the players got too busy.

    And he said that after 47 years in uniform — including four All-Star selections and two World Series championships as a player — he has had enough and was looking ahead to retirement....

    Tampa Bay Rays first base coach George Hendrick (25) watches as a video about Zimmer is played on the scoreboard during a ceremony honoring Tampa Bay Rays senior baseball advisor Don Zimmer (66) prior to the start of the Seattle Mariners against the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field on Saturday, June 7, 2014.
  2. Rays' Balfour rushes to Australia for cancer-stricken father

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Reliever Grant Balfour left Rays camp to fly home to Australia as his cancer-stricken father took a turn for the worse.

    "Grant's trying to get back there and see him," Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday.

    Balfour last visited in December and said that when he left, he knew it might be the last time he saw David, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. The cancer has spread to his stomach, neck and brain....

    Grant Balfour last visited his father, David, in December and said when he left then he knew it might be the last time he saw David, who was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has since had it spread to his stomach, neck and brain. [Blacktown International Sports Centre | Sydney NSW]
  3. Live from Port Charlotte: Balfour leaves camp, Hendrick visits


    UPDATE, 1:25: The Rays got their work in despite some light rain.

    Some further news/notes:

    * LHP Drew Smyly did not throw a bullpen session with the other pitchers in his group, but he and manager Kevin Cash said that was by design as he prefers a slightly different program than the Rays use. Smyly will throw bullpens every third day, instead of every other as the other pitchers, and will throw more each time. As a result, he also will make one less exhibition appearance, not debuting until March 10-11....

    Former 1B coach George Hendrick made an appearance at camp in his new role as special advisor, and was greeted warmly.
  4. Drew Smyly says he has no issue with Yoan Moncada, just the system

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays LHP Drew Smyly said he has no issue with Cuban free agent INF Yoan Moncada or the $31.5 million he reportedly got from the Red Sox.

    But it's the system that let Moncada cash in while amateurs from the United States and other countries can't that Smyly criticized in a Twitter post that became a topic of considerable digital and actual discussion Tuesday....

    Drew Smyly creates quite the buzz with his tweet concerning rules on amateur signing bonuses.
  5. Longoria optimistic about crisp, new Cash

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — With much the same graceful balance he shows at third base, Evan Longoria reported to camp Tuesday saying he didn't want manager Joe Maddon to leave the Rays but the team will be better for it.

    "I just think there comes a time when it's just the right time for somebody new," Longoria said.

    "I think everybody here is looking forward to a new year and just a fresh start and something that's different. I think sometimes things are needed and necessary to kind of keep you on track. That's no knock on Joe. Obviously he did so many great things for the franchise and so many great things for me as a player. But I guess all good things come to an end at some point."...

    Evan Longoria says of new Cub Joe Maddon, “Obviously he did so many great things. … But I guess all good things come to an end at some point.”
  6. Video: Evan Longoria excited by Rays' new look


    Team leader 3B Evan Longoria reported to Rays camp in Port Charlotte today and said he was excited by the new look of the team after the extensive change during the winter,


  7. Live from Port Charlotte: Day 2 of Rays camp


    UPDATE, 5:43: Longoria reported and talked a lot about what he called the "mutually beneficial" move by manager Joe Maddon to leave the Rays and join the Cubs, as Longoria said the Rays could use a fresh approach.

    Longoria also talked about some changes to his regimen as he seeks to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season.

    Look for the full story later tonight on tampabay.com.

    NO FUN: Curt Casali blocks a pitch during spring training camp Tuesday in Port Charlotte.
  8. Rays' Drew Smyly clarifies tweet on Cuban free agent Yoan Moncada


    Before the Rays headed on the field for the second day of workouts, LHP Drew Smyly was working to clarify a Twitter post he made about the signing of Cuban free agent Yoan Moncada.

    After Moncada agreed to a reported $31.5-million signing bonus with the Red Sox, Smyly tweeted:

    It's not right that a Cuban 19yr old gets paid 30m and the best 19yr old in the entire USA gets prob 1/6th of that. Everyone should have to go through same process...

    Drew Smyly on Tuesday clarified a Twitter post he made about the signing of Cuban free agent Yoan Moncada.
  9. Cabrera to Rays: Okay with short or second but please pick one

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Free agent signee Asdrubal Cabrera reported to camp Monday saying he is okay with playing either second base or shortstop based on whatever the Rays decide is best for the team.

    But he made it clear he would rather not shuffle between the two.

    "I would like to stay in one position," Cabrera said. "I think it's hard for anyone to play short or second; it's not the same. You have to be ready for one of those two positions."...

    Good sport: Video coordinator Chris “Chico” Fernandez gets Joe Maddon’s old number for a day and “JR.” as the name.
  10. Rays have a new No. 70 - for the day anyway


    Poking fun at how much time video coordinator Chris "Chico" Fernandez spent hanging with the former manager, the Rays made him wear Joe Maddon's No. 70 on the field Monday, with JR. in the nameplate. "Chico's a good sport,'' new Rays manaer Kevin Cash said. "It was entertaining, I think, for the guys.''

    And for Maddon, who was texted several photos at Cubs camp.


    Video coordinator Chris "Chico" Fernandez in his new No. 70 jersey for the day
  11. Rays stake claim as top pitching staff

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays' seemingly endless off­season of massive change formally — and finally — concluded with Monday's first workout for pitchers, catchers and new manager Kevin Cash.

    And as they gathered for the first time as a group in the Charlotte Sports Park clubhouse, it was clear their answer to the skepticism about remaining contenders is a pitching staff they consider among the game's absolute best....

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb throws in the bullpen during the first official workout of Rays spring training Monday at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times] .
  12. Video report: First workout for Rays, Cash


    Our video report from the Rays first official workout for pitchers and catchers on Monday in Port Charlotte, a Will Vragovic production.

  13. Live from Port Charlotte: It's officially spring training


    UPDATE, 11:59: Balfour said he feels fine, that the plan is set up his schedule counting back from opening day, limiting hin to 8-9 spring games as a matter of conserving strength. Will be maybe a week behind the others.

    Cash said his first day went well, that his biggest challenge was knowing where to go. "I didn't know what field to be on,'' he said. "So I hung around with the catchers.''...

    Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey meets with pitchers and catchers in Port Charlotte on Monday morning, the first official day of spring training.
  14. Rays catcher Rene Rivera a study in perseverance

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Rene Rivera has plenty of reasons to be thankful for the opportunity the Rays are giving him to be their everyday catcher after his breakout season last year in San Diego.

    None bigger than the fact that five years ago, he nearly quit playing.

    A career that had featured more downs than ups was cratering as Rivera found himself without a team heading into the 2010 season, playing in a semipro league in his native Puerto Rico for a few hundred bucks a game and with no better offer than from the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks in the independent Atlantic League....

    Rene Rivera, warming up at the Rays’ spring complex, hit 11 home runs, threw out 33.3 percent of attempted basestealers and demonstrated elite pitch framing skills last season.
  15. Rays' Odorizzi hopes weight gain improves strength

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — While other players (and certain sportswriters) spend their offseason trying to lose weight, Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi worked hard to go the other way.

    Seeking to strengthen his core and base, Odorizzi was on an exercise-and-diet regimen to add weight and was happy to have put on 17 pounds, reporting to camp at 197.

    "It was just eating a lot of food, obviously healthy food, but pretty much as much as I could shovel in," Odorizzi said. "Pretty much every meal I ate was larger than I would have had last year. … There were just a lot of meals, like six or seven a day. I'd eat something every two-three hours."...

    Starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi says he gained 17 pounds during the offseason as he sought to strengthen his core and base.