ST. PETERSBURG - Jesse Litsch used to fetch bats for the Devil Rays. Tonight at Tropicana Field, the 22-year-old Pinellas Park native will try to keep their bats silent.
Litsch, a Rays batboy from 2000-02 while he attended and played for Dixie Hollins High, will make his ninth major-league start today for the Blue Jays. It's his first appearance against his hometown team in his hometown ballpark.
Litsch said about 50 friends and family members are expected, including his father, Rick - who celebrated his 57th birthday in May in Toronto by watching Litsch make his major-league debut.
And Litsch admitted Monday that today will be a little weird. 'It's a story, yeah,' he said. 'But everyone does what they do. I got lucky: Be a bat boy, be around it, live the dream.'
Litsch was a relatively unheralded prospect at Double-A New Hampshire when Toronto ace Roy Halladay underwent an appendectomy in May. The Jays needed an emergency starter.
Litsch got the call and made a splash by pitching 8 2/3 innings in a victory against the Orioles (whose lineup included former Rays Aubrey Huff and Chris Gomez).
He spent two weeks with the Jays, then returned to the minors until A.J. Burnett (shoulder) went on the DL in early July. In his first start after his return, Litsch allowed two unearned runs in seven innings in a loss to Oakland.
He outpitched Boston All-Star Josh Beckett at Fenway Park on July 15 by allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings, and is coming off a 13-1 victory against the Twins in which he allowed one run in seven innings.
The only Rays players who were with the team during Litsch's tenure are Carl Crawford and recently reacquired pitcher Dan Wheeler.Crawford said in May that Litsch always insisted they'd meet again one day in the big leagues.
Crawford is expected to be recovered enough today from a sore right wrist to return to the lineup. Litsch joked that he better get Crawford out, or he'd never hear the end of it.
Not to worry.
'When guys get to the big leagues, I don't tease 'em,' Crawford said. 'No need to do all that. It'll be good to face him, one of those baseball stories, I guess.'
Fellow former batboy Torian Sands is now a Rays clubhouse assistant. Sands and Litsch greeted each other behind home plate Monday before batting practice.
'It's weird. It's crazy. That's what I told him,' Sands said. 'I said, 'You remember throwing in that 'pen down there, messing around during BP?''
Yes, Litsch said, he remembers. And those memories will be flowing tonight. 'It's a little weird,' Litsch said. 'But it's fun.'