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Who are Tampa Bay’s most durable athletes? Can the Rays clone them?

As iron horses go, the area hasn’t produced a Ripken, but it does boast a Ronde.
 
These days, the Rays could use a starting pitcher with the durability of James Shields, who worked at least 200 innings for six consecutive years (2007-2012).
These days, the Rays could use a starting pitcher with the durability of James Shields, who worked at least 200 innings for six consecutive years (2007-2012). [ Times (2010) ]
Published May 18, 2023|Updated May 20, 2023

If the Rays’ historic start has taught their fans anything, it’s to revel cautiously.

Anxiety rates have exceeded spin rates as a succession of pitchers has logged time on the injury list. And for all the club’s offensive potency, seemingly every pulled home run is accompanied by the fear of a pulled groin.

If there’s one commodity the Rays could really use in this potential banner season (other than bullpen stability), it’s a Cal Ripken clone or two — someone durable enough to perform every day, rain or shine, sprain or stiffness. Of course, management must be willing to let players wince their way through an ailment or two, and the Rays hierarchy understandably takes few health risks.

At any rate, the club’s smorgasbord of ailments got us to contemplating the sturdiest athletes this area has produced. Turns out, a number of ironmen and women have carved a niche in local lore with their durability.

Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Ronde Barber, Bucs

Former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, signs autographs for fans during the first round of the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort on March 16.
Former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, signs autographs for fans during the first round of the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort on March 16. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Weeks before his iconic 92-yard interception return in the NFC title game in the 2002 season, Barber tore the PCL in his right knee in a game at Detroit and had arthroscopic surgery. The resolve brandished in that stretch encapsulates the career of arguably the most durable athlete this area has known. When Barber’s Hall of Fame career ended, he owned the NFL record for consecutive starts by a defensive back with 215 (224 including playoffs), having started every contest for 13 consecutive years (2000-12).

Tom Brady, Bucs

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to fans after his team's 17-16 win against the Saints in a Monday night game last December.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to fans after his team's 17-16 win against the Saints in a Monday night game last December. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Counting the postseason, Brady started all 112 of his teams’ games after turning 40. The last 57 came with the Bucs, a stretch that becomes more astounding considering the context: He played the 2020 season with a torn left MCL sustained in his final season with the Patriots, having surgery shortly after leading Tampa Bay to a victory in Super Bowl 55. He also dealt with a right shoulder injury last season, but in true GOAT fashion grimaced his way through it at age 45.

Krista Holle, USF softball

Former USF standout Krista Holle, a prep All-American at Chamberlain High, played in 290 of the Bulls' 292 games during her college career from 2003-2006.
Former USF standout Krista Holle, a prep All-American at Chamberlain High, played in 290 of the Bulls' 292 games during her college career from 2003-2006. [ KELVIN MA | Tampa Bay Times ]
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The prep All-American from Chamberlain High played in 290 of 292 games during her USF career (at catcher or third base), and remains the school’s career leader in games played. During that stretch (2003-06), the Bulls made four NCAA region appearances and clinched the program’s first super region berth in Holle’s senior year. Holle remains in the Bulls’ career top 10 in several categories, including hits (229), at-bats (802), doubles (39) and RBIs (128).

Aubrey Huff, Rays

Aubrey Huff (19), one of the great hitters of the Rays' early incarnation, played in a franchise-record 398 consecutive games between 2002 and 2004.
Aubrey Huff (19), one of the great hitters of the Rays' early incarnation, played in a franchise-record 398 consecutive games between 2002 and 2004.

One of the most versatile players in Rays history also remains, at least statistically, the most durable. When Huff was forced to exit a home game against the A’s with back spasms on Aug. 21, 2004, his franchise-record streak of 398 consecutive games played ended. At the time, the streak was the majors’ second longest behind Orioles shortstop Migue Tejada (715). He missed four games, then returned to deliver a ninth-inning, pinch-hit RBI groundout to lift Tampa Bay to a 6-5 win against the Mariners.

Auggie Sanchez, USF football

Northeast High alumnus Auggie Sanchez (43), who played for USF from 2013-2017, owns the Bulls' career record for consecutive starts (50) and tackles (388).
Northeast High alumnus Auggie Sanchez (43), who played for USF from 2013-2017, owns the Bulls' career record for consecutive starts (50) and tackles (388).

The Bulls’ all-time portrait of pain tolerance, Sanchez started every game in the midsection of USF’s defense for four seasons — three of them while dealing with a torn right labrum. The Northeast High alumnus finally had surgery before his senior season in 2017, finishing that year as the program’s career leader in tackles (388) and consecutive starts (50).

James Shields, Rays

Former Rays right-handed workhorse James Shields started at least 31 games every year from 2007-2012.
Former Rays right-handed workhorse James Shields started at least 31 games every year from 2007-2012. [ Times (2008) ]

In a previous era the Rays had a right-hander they could count on every five days week after week, month after month, season after season. Shields, the franchise leader in wins (87) and starts (217), worked at least 200 innings for six consecutive years (2007-12), starting at least 31 games each of those seasons. His 19 complete games in a Tampa Bay uniform are 14 more than the combined career total of the Rays pitchers on the current 40-man roster.

Marty St. Louis, Lightning

Former Lightning star Martin St. Louis played in a franchise-record 499 consecutive games, and was preparing for No. 500 when sidelined by a freak injury during a morning skate.
Former Lightning star Martin St. Louis played in a franchise-record 499 consecutive games, and was preparing for No. 500 when sidelined by a freak injury during a morning skate. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Were it not for one of the freakiest injuries in local lore, St. Louis’ streak of consecutive games might have gone untouched for decades. On the day of what would have been his 500th consecutive game (at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers), St. Louis was struck near his left eye with a puck during the morning skate, suffering facial and sinus fractures that sidelined him for five games. Still, his 499 consecutive games (Nov. 17, 2005 to Dec. 6, 2011) are 111 more than the franchise’s second-longest streak.

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