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Rays

Destination: Tampa

Published:   |   Updated: April 2, 2013 at 01:33 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The Rays begin the 2013 season this afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles fully intent on winning the American League East title, the American League pennant and the final game of the World Series.

“I think you’re doing everyone a disservice if you don’t believe that,” third baseman Evan Longoria said.

And while the team improved the infield defense and added a little oomph to a sluggish offense, and the pitching is expected to be just as stingy as last season, Longoria said the key to this team’s success is the clubhouse camaraderie.

This team, he said, has fully bought into the Ray Way.

Longoria said it’s because the days of the Devil Rays have almost faded in the rearview mirror now that James Shields, B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell and Carlos Peņa are no longer with the club.

The last Devil Ray is Ben Zobrist, and is as much a poster boy for the Ray Way as Longoria and today’s starting pitcher, David Price.

“There was a lot of history with B.J. and Shields in this organization, and I think there were some things that were tough for them to get beyond,” Longoria said. “They were really the only ones that were left in here that were here before the Rays were in 2008 when we started to be the team that we are now. I think some of those things kind of stuck around, and as much as you try to instill the new way, some of those things, it was tough to get some of those thoughts out of their head.

“And so, I think, obviously they were great players, but as far as an overarching belief in what we try to do here, I think with the new people that we have now, it’s a completely new belief in what we’re trying to do here. I don’t know if that came out the right way. I’m not trying to be negative in any way, obviously, but I think with the personalities that we brought in, we really from Day One in spring training, were all on this same page, and same belief that now Tampa Bay is a destination where as before it wasn’t really.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon said Upton and Shields were two of the reasons why the Devil Rays were able to morph into the Rays. Shields set the tone of the pitching staff, and Upton was a major part of every playoff run.

Yet, Maddon said he understands the point Longoria was trying to make.

“I’m glad he feels that way,” Maddon said. “I’m glad the players feel that way. I’ll say this, this whole camp, that’s what I’ve been focused on. The coaches are focused on getting them ready to play on the field. My job is getting them ready to play together as a group and to make sure I was paying attention to everything regarding personalities and where they fit, and talking individually to players to mentally get their head on right according to how we’re going to utilize them this season.”

The Rays have six new players on the roster — shortstop Yunel Escobar, first baseman James Loney, infielder/left fielder Kelly Johnson, pitcher Roberto Hernandez, pitcher Jamey Wright, and outfielder/first baseman Shelley Duncan. Three — Escobar, Loney and Johnson — are in today’s lineup.

Of the six, only Escobar came over in a trade. The rest signed as free agents. Wright and Duncan accepted minor-league offers for the chance to play for the Rays.

“This is becoming a destination point,” Maddon said. “The guys who are here want to be here, and there are other guys who wanted to be here, too, that we could not fit in.”

Johnson heard all about Maddon’s rules — both of them. And the dress theme road trips. And the dance parties after wins.

Johnson knows about the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher and the playoff appearances and the 90-win seasons.

To Johnson, the Rays are about blue caps, championship banners above the catwalk in left field and winning.

Those are the reasons Johnson signed in February. And now that he has been a Ray for nearly two months and learned to play two new positions, as well, Johnson came to this conclusion regarding his new team:

“Be yourself. They’re not going to lay out a bunch of rules and beat you over the head, this is how you do it, this is how you do it, this is how you do it. It’s just be a professional, be here to win. I guess that probably sums it up the best. Be here to win.”

For Longoria, the dress-up trips, Maddon’s two rules (show up on time and play hard) and the belief that wanting to win outweighs the size of the payroll is why the Rays will take the field this afternoon fully confident they will be playing baseball in October.

“Joe creates an environment where we can be comfortable in this clubhouse and out there on the field as a group and, in turn, we’ve seen the fruits of our labor, his labor so to speak,” Longoria said. “We’ve really gone out and performed the best we can perform regardless of who we’ve lost and who we’ve added. It’s been really the Ray Way and not individual personality’s way. It’s not my way or David’s way. It wasn’t James Shields’s way. It was always about the Ray Way.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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