David Lamb hasn't gotten to play much, but he's still having a ball. Nearly five months into what amounts to a major-league internship, the 24-year-old still greets each day like a dream come true.
"My goal has always been to play in the big leagues, and I'm here," Lamb said. "It's been one big learning experience. I haven't played as much as you'd like to, but I'd say it's been outstanding. Definitely."
By taking Lamb from Baltimore in the Rule 5 draft, the Rays had to keep him on the big-league roster all season or offer him back to the Orioles. While it seemed an unlikely proposition in spring training, Lamb apparently will make it through the season as a major-leaguer. Not bad for a guy who had played just 48 games above Double A.
"It's been kind of weird," Lamb said. "In the minor leagues, I wouldn't even look at the lineup because I knew I was in there every day. Now it's like you check to make sure you're not in there, that you're not playing.
"There's been an adjustment, but I don't think I've wasted any time sitting on the bench. I don't feel like I've gotten rusty. When I have gone in there, even after 30 days without playing, I think I've done all right. I've gotten hits and made the plays. I think that shows I've worked hard to keep things going."
The idle time has not been without rewards. Lamb says he has learned tons about playing at the big-league level, and even more about the off-field lifestyle. He's gotten a thrill knowing his friends and family back home in California have seen him play. He even carved a niche as a footnote to history, serving as Wade Boggs' official pregame throwing partner. "A great story to tell," Lamb said.
And he's made a little bit of money. As a major-league rookie, Lamb gets a $200,000 salary, which is about $33,000 a month during the season. He made $1,500 a month in Double A last season, with a raise to $2,000 at Triple A. "I probably made more in a week this year than I made in the last four years combined," he said.
Lamb says he hopes this season "is the start of 10 years here," but there are no guarantees. With the Rule 5 requirements met, the Rays could send him to Triple A next year to play every day, a possibility Lamb realizes.
"I don't plan on going back to the minor leagues," Lamb said. "I'll do everything I can. I did everything I could to make the team this year and I'll do everything I can to stay in the big leagues the next 10 years.
"Eventually, obviously, I want to be a starting shortstop at some point in my career, but if that's not in the next few years, that's fine. But the big leagues is the only place to play."
HART-LESS: Consider it the rumor that just won't die _ Indians GM John Hart headed to Tampa Bay to replace Chuck LaMar. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli has flatly dismissed it, and Hart, a Tampa native, has just about done the same. "I love Vince Naimoli and the people here, but it's never even been a thought," Hart said. "I never even dreamed about this until somebody read it to me. That one is completely off-base. It just defies logic that something like this would even be brought up." Hart says he hasn't talked to anyone from the Rays, and that such rumors are unfair to him and to LaMar, whom Hart says "is doing a terrific job here."
BIG SWINGER: Jose Canseco says he plans to be back in the lineup Friday night, though team personnel are not necessarily quite as sure he'll be ready. There is no doubt the Rays have missed him since his July 11 back surgery. Through Friday, they were 38-47 with him (.447) and 10-20 (.333) without him, and dropped from 1.03 homers per game to .76.
MINOR MATTERS: The Rays will send six of their top prospects to the Maryvale team in the Arizona Fall League _ pitchers Bobby Seay, Matt White and Todd Belitz, infielders Aubrey Huff and Dustin Carr, and catcher Toby Hall. Orlando trainer Tom Tisdale is going too. Five others will join Orlando manager Bill Russell with the Rancho Cucamonga Surfers of the new California Fall League _ pitchers Eddie Reyes, Cedrick Bowers and Elliott Brown, plus infielders Jared Sandberg and Derek Mann.
HOO-RAYS: OF Quinton McCracken was named among the top 100 community-minded pro athletes by the Sporting News. Friday will be Negro Leagues Appreciation Night at Tropicana Field. Fans will get a Kansas City Monarchs hat and Buck O'Neil is among those former players expected to be present and sign autographs.