A major-league clubhouse opens 3 1/2 hours before the start of a game. Reporters covering a team need to be there at that time to begin gathering the day’s news.
Thus, I’ll arrive for a 7:10 p.m. game at 3 in the afternoon. That gives me time to get settled. And sometimes it affords me the opportunity to see something that rivals the actual game. That’s what happened Saturday.
Once I reached my seat at Tropicana Field I set up my computer and pulled from my bag the necessities for my job: a notebook, a pen, and a digital recorder. That left a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and chill.
Occasionally I’ll see a player or two taking extra batting practice or a singer practicing for that night’s anthem. Most days there’s silence. Saturday, Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton worked with Steven Souza Jr., while the slugger honed his swing using a tee.
Yep, the same kind of tee your son or daughter hit off of when they learned how to play baseball or softball. Having covered a lot of baseball games, I’ve seen many players hitting a ball off a tee. Normally the drill is an exercise in boredom. Not with Souza.
You might say he caught my attention.
Until he drilled one into the left-field stands, I don’t believe I’d ever seen a player reach the seats hitting off a tee.
First he peppered the seats in left. Then right. Finally, he put a couple over the wall in center. My jaw dropped.
Russell Branyan, a former Devil Rays player with plenty of power, told me he could not hit a ball over the wall off a tee. He did allow that he’d heard of Josh Hamilton doing so at a minor-league park.
I asked Rays players about what I’d witnessed. Most smiled and called their teammate a “freak.”
According to the youngster, the drill gets him in the mindset of not having to swing hard. The results came hours later in the form of a three-run homer.
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