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Rays

Zobrist makes young fan's day

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 04:20 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Parker Lentini has been a Ben Zobrist fan from the moment Zobrist joined the Rays in 2006, so when the Make-A-Wish Foundation worked it out for Lentini to spend a day with a Ray, the 12-year-old from Carrollwood naturally picked Zobrist.

"Everybody thought he was just going to go down to the minors when they kept dropping him, but I always felt he'd be good," Lentini said before Saturday's game. "And now when they say all the good players like (Evan) Longoria and (B.J.) Upton they always mention Zobrist, and I say, 'Ha, ha. I followed him since the beginning.' "

Zobrist, naturally, was touched.

"I told him, 'Dude, I'm so honored.' I never had anyone want to do that with me as a player," Zobrist said.

Lentini, who has systemic juvenile arthritis, had lunch and played catch on the field with Zobrist and was given a tour of the clubhouse, where he met the players. Manager Joe Maddon even had Lentini take a few questions during Maddon's pregame news conference.

For the record, Lentini is not a fan of the six-man rotation and he believes the Rays will be the American League wild-card team.

"Best day ever," Lentini said.

Zobrist always makes time for the children who attend Rays games as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but he said the 90 minutes he spent with Lentini touched him more than the times he's stopped to sign an autograph and pose for a picture.

"This is 'Let's get to know each other here,' and we got a chance to do that," Zobrist said. "And you're impacted by a little bit by the family and the whole situation, and you just walk away from it thinking how strong a little kid like that is, the way he carries himself the way he does."

Zobrist helped Lentini improve his throwing, telling him if he "aims small, he'll miss small."

"He said I could be a pitcher," Lentini said, "because I can throw but I can't catch."

Now, Zoby's neck

Zobrist wasn't in Saturday's lineup because of the sore neck that forced him out of Friday's game. Maddon said he might not play Zobrist today, either, because he wants Zobrist to take an entire day off.

Zobrist, who said his neck was "fine," said it began bothering him on the road trip and likely came about because of too much hitting.

"That's kind of been common with me," he said. "If I do a little too much that's probably what happens."

Maddon said neck injuries, no matter how small, are kind of tricky, so he wants to make sure Zobrist has enough rest before he rejoins the lineup.

"He's the kind of guy who doesn't complain or ask for a whole lot," Maddon said, "So if it's bothering him like it is, you need to give him a day off."

Thinking of Lee Roy

Maddon was happy to hear encouraging news concerning Lee Roy Selmon, who suffered a stroke Friday.

Maddon fondly remembers meeting Selmon before the 2008 season. He was so impressed, he asked the NFL Hall of Famer and former Buccaneer and USF athletic director to address the Rays before a game that season.

"He is a soft-spoken gentleman, kind," Maddon said. "You can't even imagine him being this violent football player."

While most of the players on the team didn't remember Selmon as a player, Maddon said he had their respect the moment he entered the clubhouse.

"It was very easy, and the message was delivered in the way, very calm, soft-spoken, but had a lot of clout to it," Maddon said. "We all wish him well, man. Hopefully he's going to battle through this."

The bruise brothers

It's fitting Sean Rodriguez would tie former Ray Jonny Gomes for the club record for most times hit by a pitch in a single season, because the two are similar in many ways.

Rodriguez was hit by his 14th pitch Friday night, tying Gomes, who set the record in 2005.

"The biggest thing is there're certain guys who aren't afraid of getting hit by the ball and they're definitely willing to take a base," Maddon said. "Jonny was like that, Sean is like that. (Kelly) Shoppach has a little bit of that in him also. There are certain guys who are not going to give in. Getting hit by the pitch there is not such a bad idea to them."

Noteworthy

There are no plans to shut down Jeremy Hellickson if/when the Rays are eliminated from postseason contention, because the Rays want Hellickson to build enough of a base of innings pitched to build on for 2012. "You may want to shut him down, but not until you get to a level that permits you to get to another level next year." Maddon said … The Triple-A Durham Bulls clinched their fifth consecutive International League South Division title Friday night.

Roger Mooney

"The biggest thing is there're certain guys who aren't afraid of getting hit by the ball and they're definitely willing to take a base," Maddon said. "Jonny was like that, Sean is like that. (Kelly) Shoppach has a little bit of that in him also. There are certain guys who are not going to give in. Getting hit by the pitch there is not such a bad idea to them."

Noteworthy

There are no plans to shut down Jeremy Hellickson if/when the Rays are eliminated from postseason contention, because the Rays want Hellickson to build enough of a base of innings pitched to build on for 2012. "You may want to shut him down, but not until you get to a level that permits you to get to another level next year." Maddon said … The Triple-A Durham Bulls clinched their fifth consecutive International League South Division title Friday night.

Roger Mooney

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