Rays Tales: Remembering their major debut

There's so much new about being in the majors for the first time; here are some of the stories.
Willy Adames has had plenty to be happy about since coming to the major leagues last year. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Willy Adames has had plenty to be happy about since coming to the major leagues last year. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published April 27
Updated April 27

BOSTON — It hit Willy Adames when he saw his first paycheck for two weeks’ work (if you can even call it that), with five digits left of the decimal point. For Austin Meadows, standing at first base chatting with childhood idol Joey Votto. For Brandon Lowe, sitting in a Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Toronto so fancy that he wasn’t sure what he should or shouldn’t touch.

For just about every player who comes to the big leagues for the first time, there is that moment, that place in time when they realize where they are, how immensely changed the life, routine and reality was from what they had in the minors. And how much they appreciate it and want to stay.

“When I talk about what’s different, everything is,’’ Diego Castillo said. “Everything.’’

A dozen players experienced that moment last year with the Rays, plus two others before coming over in a trade, Jalen Beeks (with Boston) and Meadows (Pittsburgh). Here are some of their stories:

Traveling in style

Minor-leaguers usually travel by bus or sometimes early morning — often crowded — commercial flights, and they share rooms at midlevel motels. So the upgrade to major-league style is significant: rolling right up to airport tarmacs for private security screenings, taking chartered jets equipped with all first-class style seats and full service, having luggage delivered to their spacious single rooms. “They’re serving you food on the plane, there’s a blanket and a pillow there for you to take a nap,’’ Beeks said. “It’s still travel, but it’s a lot better than being on a bus.’’ And then there are the five-star hotels. “I’m like, ‘What am I doing here?’ ’’ Lowe said. “I’m a small kid from Suffolk (Va.); I stayed at Hampton Inns and places like that.’’ Or, as Yonny Chirinos summed it up: “Mucho, mucho, mucho diferente.’’

Anything you need?

Players start making good money in the majors, yet they rarely have to pay any more for equipment. Bats, uniforms and training gear are provided by the team. Most of their other equipment (gloves, cleats, batting gloves, sunglasses) come from contracts they sign with the assorted companies. And there’s always free stuff, such as T-shirts and caps, showing up and people asking if you need anything. “Everyone kind of cares for you,’’ Meadows said. “You feel like you’re on the top of the mountain. I don’t want to sound arrogant or something, you feel like you kind of have that power of being in the big leagues. People treating you so respectfully and giving you basically anything you want, if we’re being honest.’’

‘What were you doing?’

Playing every game on TV in the majors can have its benefits, including some social and business advantages from the attention and high visibility. There can be some negatives, too. For some players, it’s the sudden attention from relatives they never knew they had or old friends they had long forgotten who want tickets or autographs. But also from actual family and friends who now can watch their every move. “My close buddies, we have a group chat, and they talk crap a lot,’’ said pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, who was just sent back down to Triple A. “I gave up an absolute bomb to Mike Trout and they were like, ‘What were you doing?’ I’m like, ‘What do you want from me? He does that to everyone, it’s not just me.’ ’’

Show him the money

Adames, who made a three-day May cameo in the majors last year before returning for good in June, shared as much of his major-league experience as he could with his mother. There was one day when the shortstop couldn’t wait to call her, his first payday, with a semimonthly check for roughly $25,000. “That was crazy,’’ he said. “I was happy. My mom was saying, ‘How much?’ And I was saying, ‘Yeah, that much.’ ” And much more than the minor-league side of his split contract, which for the whole season would have paid him $88,500, and that’s before taxes and deductions.

Show them the money

Major-leaguers make a lot of money, the minimum salary up to $555,000 this season. And they are expected to spread some of that around, tipping restaurant servers and cab drivers, hotel bell clerks who deliver their bags, visiting clubhouse staff at the end of a road trip, the home crew during or at the end of a season. “You’re making more money, and you’ve got to get used to handing over more money,’’ Beeks said. “At first it’s a little uncomfortable because you’re used to hoarding everything. (Charlie) Morton and (Kevin) Kiermaier were clear on that in (spring) camp. You’ve got to get used to that if you’re going to be in the big leagues.’’

Level of competition

Coming up through the minors, some players succeed because they are just better than most everyone else, throwing harder, running faster, swinging better. But in the majors, everyone is really good. Plus, there’s the benefit of better training and scouting. “When you play in the minor leagues, you’ve got good guys who can hit, but in the major leagues it’s different,’’ Castillo said. “People there make the adjustments fast. People in the major leagues are more stronger. They know what you can do.’’ Also, they’re more consistent at being good. “To me,’’ catcher Michael Perez said, “that’s the biggest difference.’’

Short stops

• Attendance (averaging 14,009, 29th out of 30 in the majors) will be in the spotlight as the Rays within a few months will let St. Petersburg know if they would consider a new stadium at the Trop site, or elsewhere in the city, their only current legal option. But new Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times she “will do what I can to have the Rays move to Tampa.’’ It will be interesting, if the Rays say no to St. Pete, if Mayor Rick Kriseman retains a regional view and makes a deal, albeit on different terms, to allow them to look again in Tampa. Also, to see what sites Castor has in mind and what people (Jeff Vinik?) she can get involved.

• Impact of the Rays’ use of the opener pitching strategy keeps spreading. Incentives in left-hander Gio Gonzalez’s deal with the Brewers are based on a points system tied to innings per outing (such as working behind an opener) rather than the standard starts or appearances. Also, several Japanese league teams have experimented with openers.

• Did MLB officials not see how the Red Sox’s plan to reschedule Friday’s rainout for June 8 was tough on the Rays, increasing an already taxing stretch to 21 games in 20 days, June 4-23? Or did they?

Rays rumblings

With Vlad Guerrero Jr. called up by the Blue Jays and joining Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez in the majors, Rays Class A shortstop Wander Franco becomes the top prospect in the minors, per preseason lists by Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law , fangraphs.com. … In-game Trop host Angella Sharpe has left, heading home to St. Louis to pursue other opportunities. … If it seemed odd that pitcher Casey Sadler drove through the night from Durham, N.C., with his family and their camper in tow for what, not surprisingly, was a short stay with the Rays (one day), there was a bit of a reason. Per a teammate, Sadler mistakenly thought he was out of options and thus more likely to be kept around longer. … Former Rays/now Cubs manager Joe Maddon came out with a beer, cheekily called Try Not To Suck (available for now only in Chicago), to benefit his Respect 90 Foundation and Rags of Honor 1, a nonprofit that helps homeless vets. He plans to open a brewery. … If you want to see Guerrero play, the Jays’ first visit to the Trop is May 27-29. … Condolences to the family of Braulio Lara, a Rays minor-league pitcher for seven seasons, who was killed in a car crash last weekend in his native Dominican Republic. … Brendan McKay through three starts and 13⅔ innings at Double-A Montgomery: 27 strikeouts, nine hits, three walks. But at the plate: .190 average, .485 OPS, 15 Ks in 42 at-bats. … Brandon Lowe made Richard Justice’s mlb.com list of “eight unheralded youngsters we’ve already fallen in love with.’’ … Fans complaining about buying jerseys only to see their favorite Rays traded might consider numberless multiple-choice options such as Lowe (Brandon, Nate, Josh) and Franco (Wander, Mike).

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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