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Hinske feels at home

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 04:14 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG -

You had to figure Eric Hinske wasn't long for Pittsburgh.

Not only did signing with the Pirates last winter take the veteran out of the American League East for the first time in his career, but it also took him out of playoff contention basically from the very first day of spring training.

And that's just not Hinske's style. Having tasted the World Series each of the past two seasons - in 2007 with the Red Sox and 2008 with the Rays - playing out the string in the National League Central just wouldn't do. So it's fair to say Hinske was overjoyed to be traded to the Yankees on June 30 in exchange for a pair of minor-leaguers.

"I honestly can say I missed it - I missed it a lot," Hinske said Tuesday. "It was my first time in the National League, the game's different, and we weren't winning very much, so it was just a different atmosphere. ... It's fun to be back."

Hinske returns to Tropicana Field this week for the first time since last year's World Series. Rays officials plan to present Hinske with his AL championship ring in person sometime before today's game, as they have done already this season with departed '08 team members Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes.

Could Hinske make it all the way to the Fall Classic with his third different AL East team in as many years? It's certainly a possibility, considering the way the Yankees have been playing of late. Hinske has had a hand in the tear that has moved them into first place, with four of the six hits he has collected in 18 at-bats going for home runs.

That's a sure way to impress your new employers, and perhaps Hinske's performance will open the eyes of the Orioles - the only division team he hasn't played for in his career. That possibility aside, after years spent trying to beat the Yankees from Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay, he's happy to have joined them.

"It's just weird that I've played against these guys for so long and now you're in the clubhouse with them," Hinske said. "But it's cool. It's kind of a unique situation."

Peer respect

The latest Sports Illustrated players' poll has named 3B Evan Longoria as the young player most likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.

Longoria, 23, received 35 percent of the votes in a poll of 380 MLB players. Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols was second at 9 percent, but the Triple Crown threat is generally not thought of as a young player because he is 29.

Giants RHP Tim Lincecum received 7 percent of the votes, Marlins SS Hanley Ramirez 6 percent and Brewers LF Ryan Braun 5 percent.

Two-time All-Star Longoria entered Tuesday fifth in the majors in RBIs with 75 (19 home runs), but he was batting only .229 in his previous 56 games.

Odds and ends

2B Akinori Iwamura took ground balls Tuesday afternoon and will do so again today as he continues to recover from knee surgery. ... C Shawn Riggans (right shoulder tendinitis) continues to rehab with Single-A Charlotte. His maximum 20-day assignment expires after Saturday, so the Rays will have a decision to make if he is deemed ready. ... Saturday's 4:10 p.m. game against the Royals, featuring a postgame concert with Daughtry, is sold out. ... Rays fans will get their only chance to see Royals All-Star RHP Zack Greinke in Monday's 12:08 p.m. game.

Marc Lancaster,

Tony Fabrizio

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