PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — By the look on Joe Maddon's face, you'd swear Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman just told him the team had re-signed Manny Ramirez. But this is not 2011, when the Rays brought in ManRam with hugely disappointing — and disorienting — results. This time around, the Rays aren't vulnerable to Manny being Manny. They're not vulnerable many places on the roster as they try to make the playoffs (and do better once they get there) for the fourth time in five seasons.
The best part of the club is the defense. The pitching staff — including James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore — is one of the deeper and more talented units in the league. Should the Rays score enough runs to support them, they could top 100 wins.
People expect a lot from the Rays. And Maddon welcomes it.
"We've never walked in the door with these kind of expectations, I don't think," Maddon said Tuesday. "And the thing I want to talk to [the players] about and for them to understand is, expectations should be the fuel that we need to get this done. They should serve as fuel and not a deterrent. I'm really excited that people expect a lot from us because we expect a lot from ourselves."
Expectations = Fuel. Another Joe Maddon T-shirt slogan is born.
When slugger Evan Longoria arrived Tuesday afternoon, it meant the Rays had 52 of a possible 59 players in camp. Pretty good attendance, considering it isn't mandatory for position players to arrive until Sunday. Longoria has been working out for weeks at Tropicana Field, so he's noticed the team's gusto for a while.
"We're excited, we're hungry," Longoria said. "I kind of got the same feeling two weeks ago when we were working out at the Trop and there were 12-15 guys there on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday basis. That's not even a suggested mandatory, that's just showing up if you want to."
Of course, winning is more than wanting to.
"It's not just 'being there.' It's the work and the attitude," Maddon said. "Everybody gets it, everybody understands what we're after. As first days go, it's nice to know that everybody came to do their jobs. I'd really like to see us go through a high-energy spring training. We've created a lot of great offseason momentum. Last year at this time, we were looking. We were searching. And now we have an overabundance."
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Even the garbage cans at Rays camp are the pride of the major leagues. Helmets with ear flaps for lids. Nothing about this team stinks.
More from Rays camp is coming! A look at Matt Moore (who's still a rookie), new catcher Jose Molina of the Catching Molina Brothers and more with Joe Maddon.