ST. PETERSBURG — Joe Ryan and Shane Baz have spent a lot of time together the past few years.
The two promising Rays prospects first met in instructional league after the 2018 season, have been in a couple of spring trainings together and briefly crossed paths at Class A Bowling Green in May 2019.
They started rooming together during the 2020 alternate site workouts in Port Charlotte. They did so again this past spring and the following month leading up to the start of the minor-league season. And again for the past five weeks after Baz was promoted to join Ryan in the rotation at Triple-A Durham.
Now, they’re ready to take their buddy act on the road, leaving for Tokyo Wednesday as teammates on the U.S. Olympic baseball team.
“It’s just like, constantly, we’re together,” Ryan said. “And now he’s here again. And so it’s good to have him. … It’s a special opportunity.”
Said Baz, “It’s going to be great.”
Ryan, at 25, is the older, experienced voice of the dynamic duo. He has the benefit of some previous world travel, playing for Team USA in the June qualifying tournament in South Florida, and getting advice and counsel from 1998 Olympics skier Bob Ormsby, a longtime family friend.
Baz, at 22, is the more wide-eyed one, asking a lot of questions. He said his biggest concerns were getting laundry before Wednesday’s departure and wondering how he’ll occupy himself on the long flight.
Being together will enhance what both already are anticipating will be an amazing and life-defining experience, even with coronavirus concerns and protocols limiting much of their off-field activities.
“The biggest honor I can do on a baseball field, honestly, is putting on red, white and blue and trying to go win a gold medal for your country,” Baz said. “So it’s really special.”
They should feel that way, say a couple of current Rays who played previously for the U.S. team on lesser stages.
“To wear USA across your chest, it just means a little more to represent your country,” said outfielder Brett Phillips, who played in the 2015 Premier 12 world tournament in Taiwan and Japan. “It’s hard to explain wearing it. It’s an honor.”
“It’s just a different feeling,” said reliever J.P. Feyereisen, who pitched in the 2019 Premier 12 tournament in Mexico and Japan. “Obviously, the big leagues is the big leagues, but basically playing for the pride of your country is an amazing thing.”
It’s one that starts, Feyereisen said, even before the game, when the players are lined up and the anthem is played. “It gives you different chills,” he said.
Both Ryan and Baz, who are expected to be used as starters by manager Mike Scioscia, say they are eager to experience it firsthand, starting with the opening ceremonies, which they plan to attend.
They understand that, because of the protocols, they won’t get the full Olympic experience, such as having raucous crowds cheering for or against them, hanging out with players from other sports (Ryan has a high school water polo teammate on the U.S. squad) or going to watch other events. Sightseeing in Tokyo is also out, though they still hope to be able to sample some of the native food delicacies.
“I’ve gone through the whole, ‘Go to the hotel, go to the field, go to the hotel again and don’t do anything else,’” Ryan said. “So, not ideal. Definitely not for my personality and how I’m used to doing things.
“But at the same time, it is what it is. I’m fortunate to go to the Olympics and get to go play, and I’m excited about that, nonetheless. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be unique. And, yeah, it’s going to be a good time.”
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