A Jim Morris sequel? Not quite. But Louis Head is a good story, too

Rays Tales | Making the majors at 31, after thinking his career was over and turning to door-to-door sales, is almost cinematic.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Louis Head shared the emotion of his call-up during a Zoom interview Friday.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Louis Head shared the emotion of his call-up during a Zoom interview Friday. [ Times ]
Published April 24, 2021|Updated April 24, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Louis Head is not Jim Morris, who was 35 and 10 years removed from the minors and into his second career as a high school teacher and coach when he signed with the Devil Rays in 1999 and made it to the majors that September.

There probably won’t be a Disney movie about Head’s career, as there was about Morris, played by Dennis Quaid in The Rookie.

But Head’s February signing and Friday promotion to the majors at age 31 had some dramatic twists as well.

The Rays first were interested in signing him before 2020 spring training after pro scouting/personnel director Kevin Ibach was impressed by a Twitter video of Head throwing at a performance center in Houston.

“We were looking to add a few bodies, a few arms, to camp,” Ibach said Friday night. “And, lo and behold, we came across Louis Head.”

The Rays analytics team had some interesting data from Head’s time in the minors with the Indians and Dodgers, specifically the way he spun his slider.

They reached out, but were about a week late as Head had signed with the Mariners. That didn’t work out, with Head released by Seattle after the spring shutdown.

With no interest from any big-league teams (and needing to make more money than independent ball would offer) as play re-started, Head got a job. He went door to door in Arizona selling solar panels, while starting to think the door was closed on pitching again.

But here came the Rays again in January, looking to add a couple pitchers to their spring roster. “We’re going over names, and Louis Head’s name pops up,” Ibach said. “We had to go through some hoops, do a little detective work to figure out exactly where he’s throwing.”

At the time, the Rays didn’t know Head was off the baseball grid. When they reached out to agent Jeremy Fikac, then Head, he made an odd but now understandable request: Could they give him a week or two to get in better shape before coming to see him throw?

Pitchers Stetson Allie, left, and Louis Head are pictured during training camp at the Charlotte Sports Park in February.
Pitchers Stetson Allie, left, and Louis Head are pictured during training camp at the Charlotte Sports Park in February. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

The Rays agreed, figuring they had nothing to lose. Arizona-based scout Mike Brown worked him out, noting his fastball velocity was down given his need to build up more arm strength but he could still spin the slider.

Head’s humility and overt appreciation of the interest helped convince the Rays to go ahead. It was a signing born, Ibach said, “of interdepartmental work, diligence, perseverance and a little bit of good fortune.”

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When Head got to camp, he showed a willingness to take suggestions and instruction from the Rays coaching staff, making some slight tweaks to his slider, that allowed him to make a good impression all the way around. His work in exhibition games, then at the alternate training site, led to Friday’s promotion on his 31st birthday.

“Kudos to him for staying with it, for not giving up and for coming to camp with an open mind,” Ibach said. “The solar panel business might give you some perspective.”

Sherriff back in town

Reliever Ryan Sherriff shared some details with Sports Illustrated about his decision to leave the Rays on April 3 for time away from the game, saying he “felt nothing” pitching the night before and told his agent he would retire. Sherriff felt good enough to report to minor-league camp in Port Charlotte on April 16, then Friday cleared intake protocols to move to the alternate training site camp, making him available to rejoin the Rays. He told SI he wants to be an advocate for other players dealing with mental health issues, noting that COVID-19 has “exacerbated” the problem. Also a factor, Sherriff said, was pressure he put on himself after not allowing a run in 12 appearances last season.

A new look

The Ted Williams museum is gone from the Trop, rebranded as the Ted Williams Foundation, still running charity auctions, 50-50 raffles and an annual fund-raising dinner. Rays-related historical exhibits are still around and could be displayed in the future, with a charity sale of other museum display items possible later this year. The Ted Williams and Casey at the Bat statues were relocated to the new Worcester, Mass., Triple-A team.

Rays rumblings

Nice job by the Rays in presenting more than 600 AL Championship rings to players, coaches, on-field personnel and staff, highlighted by a sparkling burst and with results of the playoff series they won inscribed inside. Tyler Glasnow was among those appreciating the shiny Jostens rings, but acknowledged on his Chris Rose Rotation podcast that like other Rays, “There is a part of me that, like, I wish it was a World Series ring.” … Manager Kevin Cash was among the Rays not feeling well Friday after getting his second COVID-19 vaccine Thursday. … Those blasting the Yankees for using an opener (unsuccessfully) against the Rays in an overall “awful” weekend series included their YES Network TV play-by-play man Michael Kay, who said on his radio show: “You’re the best-looking guy at the party. Don’t try to be the smartest. …. That’s an indictment on the organization when you’ve got to be cute to fill innings.” … Cash wasn’t sure what to make of the independent Atlantic League experimenting with moving the mound back a foot, but, given his career .183 average did say: “I wouldn’t have minded hitting with the guys 75 feet away. I think I would have had a better chance.” … Joey Wendle took some teasing for not getting his first walk of the season until his 55th plate appearance. … Former Ray Curt Casali made history with the Giants, the fifth catcher in the modern era (since 1900) to catch five straight shutouts in his starts. … Steve “Doc” Watson will become pitching coach at Double-A Montgomery, taking the spot of Brian Reith, who joined the big-league staff. Watson had been at Class A six seasons. … The Biscuits are planning a May 13 giveaway of a .462 T-shirt, honoring the minor-league record average posted by coach Gary Redus in 1978 for Billings.

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