PORT CHARLOTTE — Brandon Lowe figured he had some help Friday.
The Rays were honoring Jean Ramirez, their bullpen catcher who died by suicide in January. They had Ramirez’s parents in from Texas, a banner with “JR” on the bullpen gate, a pregame moment of silence and their starters wearing jerseys with Ramirez’s name and No. 98.
Lowe, manager Kevin Cash and others went a step further, sporting cleats Ramirez had custom-painted for them.
Lowe’s previously white Under Armour cleats had blue and green added for the team’s Devil Rays uniform days, with “Bamm Bamm” on the front and a TB logo on the back. He had worn them once before, in a September game, and went 4-for-5.
He knew he had to wear them Friday. He hit a grand slam in his second at-bat.
“It was definitely a really awesome day for a performance like that,” Lowe said. “It definitely felt like you weren’t up there alone. So it was pretty cool to be able to go out there, especially in front of his family, wearing the cleats that he made. It was a really special day.”
Lowe got emotional, as did other Rays, in sharing his reaction to the news about Ramirez, a part of the team’s family. “It rocked me a little bit to the core,” he said. “It kind of shut me down for the day.”
Cash said Ramirez meant a lot to many of them: “As I said to the guys the other day, we really work hard to be the best teammates, and Jean was everybody’s best buddy. It’s very sad.”
Lowe already donates to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay through his Home Runs for Hope program and considers mental health awareness important, having had an uncle die by suicide.
“To lose a family member like that in a way that is so close and partial to myself, it really stung a little bit,” Lowe said. “Hopefully we can keep working with his family, his mom and his dad, to really amplify that if you need help, if you’re not feeling yourself, it’s okay to not be all right and go seek some help.”
The Rays plan to auction the jerseys and other memorabilia in May, during mental health awareness month. Lowe said he will donate another pair of cleats Ramirez painted but not the ones he wore Friday. “There’s a little special mojo in the cleats,” he said,
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Game recap: Rays 9, Orioles 4
The Rays won for the first time in eight spring games, capping a happy day for Cash, who also threw batting practice and hit fungoes for the first time since October surgery to attach a brace to his UCL. … Josh Fleming looked sharp in an eight-pitch first inning and felt good afterward, saying an offseason shoulder impingement is no longer an issue and he expects to be ready for a 60-pitch workload by opening day. … Right-hander Calvin Faucher, acquired from the Twins with Nelson Cruz, had a sharp second spring outing, striking out two in a 1-2-3 third. ... Ryan Thompson worked a one-hit, one-walk inning in his first outing since September thoracic outlet surgery.
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier will be shut down for two-three days due to left groin soreness; he was a limited participant the first week of camp due to neck and upper-back tightness. … Lefty reliever Cody Reed, who re-signed on a minor-league deal, has been put on an arm-strengthening program to boost his velocity and likely won’t pitch in any spring games. … Lefty Brendan McKay said he “felt really good” after his first camp bullpen session, throwing 20 pitches, all fastballs and changeups. He hopes to start facing hitters in April. … Right-hander Robert Dugger, who has spent time with the Mariners and Marlins, signed and will report to minor-league camp. … Right-hander Christopher Dishmey, a 21-year-old on the Dominican Summer League team, was suspended 25 games for violating the minor-league drug policy.
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