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Rays seek fun but also some comic relief

A snake was one of the pregame visitors to the Rays’ clubhouse in 2013.
A snake was one of the pregame visitors to the Rays’ clubhouse in 2013.
Published Mar. 24, 2015

PORT CHARLOTTE — Joe Maddon was quite the manager for most of his nine seasons with the Rays, leading them to four postseason appearances, including the 2008 World Series, while twice being voted the league's best.

There are, obviously, no reasons to denigrate that.

He also was quite the ringmaster, orchestrating dress-up road trips, bringing animals, bands, magicians and a medicine man into the clubhouse, creating diversions and distractions to a calliope soundtrack while being considered the game's most fun, hip and dynamic personality.

There are, apparently, reasons to disparage that.

When new baseball operations president Matt Silverman canvassed a group of players for thoughts on the team, one of the things he heard, from several corners of the clubhouse, was that they were tired of the antics and sideshows and were looking forward to a more normal experience playing baseball.

And a more — to use one of Maddon's words — organic way of having fun.

"Anytime you've got 40 guys in the locker room, funny things are going to happen," starter Alex Cobb said. "They're just not forced. We're not going to set up a day to 'have fun.' We're not going to have 'Friday Fun Days' or whatever."

New manager Kevin Cash definitely has more of a business-like, straightforward, low-key approach, avoiding the spotlight Maddon sought and craved. No costumed trips, no news conferences in football or firefighter helmets or Indian pullovers, no menageries padding through the clubhouse.

"It's like going to Spencer Gifts," team leader Evan Longoria said. "The novelties are cool, but ultimately the fun of the event in general is being with the people you like being around and enjoying the things that we enjoy doing in this game.

"And the main thing is winning."

That's not to suggest Cash doesn't have a fun side, because he absolutely does, with an infectious laugh and a self-deprecating sense of humor, especially about his own career. Listen to him and you hear a lot of Terry Francona — his manager in Boston and boss in Cleveland — and that's a good thing.

Cash can be quick to tease and joke, with hitting coach Derek Shelton already a favorite foil (e.g., that he missed Saturday's game "with the sniffles"), and Cash is just as happy to be on the receiving end. And that will spread as he becomes more comfortable with all the personnel.

Overall, there has actually been a more natural, relaxed, open sense of give-and-take around the clubhouse.

"We still have the culture and the chemistry," starter Chris Archer said, "there is just going to be less, I don't know what the word is for those things, I wouldn't say distractions, maybe extracurricular recreational activities. … But we're still having fun."

Plus, Cash isn't beyond a gag or two, such as requiring video coordinator Chris Fernandez, who was known for attending to Maddon's almost every need, to sport a jersey for the first day of workouts with the former manager's No. 70 and JR. on the back. There is still a joke of the day told before each workout, plenty of laughs during.

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And Cash is open to input from the players. He wasn't aware, for example, of the rituals of clubhouse celebrations for each win — a combo dance party/jumping-like-high-schoolers mob — but said he's fine if they want to keep doing it. "Hopefully 100 times," he cracked.

"I really don't feel Kevin is here to be a dictator, he's not here to be the 'fun police,' so to speak," Longoria said. "I think a lot of us are looking forward to his ideas and his input and his idea of fun. Everyone has their own idea of fun, but I think it circles back to winning. He wants that to be the focus, and I want that to be the focus. And I think if we do that we're all going to enjoy this year."

In other words, they still can have plenty of fun.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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