- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Ray King is left-handed and is a fairly accomplished relief pitcher, so he’ll have a major league job as long as he wants one.

But because Ray King is a fairly accomplished, left-handed relief pitcher, he’ll never enjoy the kind of job security reserved for big-name starters, lights-out closers and most position players.

So while the rest of his pitching brethren spend their winters playing golf, lifting weights and getting into shape for the upcoming season, King goes to work at his second job.

“I work 10 to 3 in a women’s clothing store,” King said, unable to hold back his laughter.

“Really? A women’s boutique?” responded Ryan Wagner, one of King’s new bullpen mates with the Washington Nationals, with a look of bewilderment in his eyes. “I didn’t know that.”

It’s true. King and his wife, Cherie, own and operate Oh So Couture, an upscale boutique in Scottsdale, Ariz., that features women’s and children’s designer clothing and accessories.

The store has been open more than a year now, and King has learned enough about the business that he can comfortably assist customers when they walk up to him and ask: “Do you have this in a size 6?”

“Sometimes they’ll come in and they’ll look at me and kind of do a double-take,” he said. “And then after I start talking to her, she’s like, ‘What brands do you have?’ Once I tell her, she’s like, ‘Oh, he knows what he’s talking about!’ ”

At 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, the 33-year-old King hardly looks the part of women’s clothing expert. Then again, he hardly looks the part of major league pitcher, yet he’s been pulling it off for eight seasons now and doing a pretty good job of it.

Primarily a left-handed specialist, he owns a 3.28 ERA in 514 career games with the Cubs, Brewers, Braves, Cardinals and Rockies. Most important in the Nationals’ eyes, King has made at least 67 appearances each of the last six years and has never gone on the disabled list.

“He’s a workhorse,” manager Manny Acta said. “This is a guy who’s willing to take the ball every day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on the DL. I know last year he wasn’t as effective as he was in the past, but when you have a guy who can take the ball every day and be as durable as he is, he’s an asset.”

King’s sub-par 2006 in hitter-friendly Colorado — he went 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA — made him a less-attractive free agent this winter. Still, it was somewhat surprising a pitcher with his track record who made $2.5 million last season couldn’t land a guaranteed deal with a major league club.

The Nationals offered only a non-guaranteed, minor league contract worth $850,000 if King makes the Opening Day roster. He signed in December and was assured by club officials he’ll make the team as long as he’s healthy.

“I guess playing in Colorado last year kind of put a damper on my whole career,” he said. “When I talked to [Washington general manager Jim] Bowden, there was an opportunity over here. … There’s a lot of young talent here, and I’m glad to be a part of something good that’s going in the right direction.”

The Nationals are glad to have added a veteran presence to a young and unproven pitching staff.

King already has begun establishing himself as one of the leaders in the bullpen. A jovial, always-smiling guy, he kids around with teammates and reporters like he has been with this club for two decades, not two weeks.

He’s also not afraid to offer unsolicited advice to other pitchers, who soak up the knowledge and expertise King has acquired over a career that has included two postseason appearances and three games pitched in the 2004 World Series with St. Louis.

“That guy has been on winning teams, winning ballclubs. He’s been in a World Series,” Wagner said. “With so many young guys on this team, he’s able to give you little extra bonus points on things here and there.”

King is happy to take on a leadership role, even if he’s new to the Nationals. Bouncing around from clubhouse to clubhouse has become old hat for the veteran lefty, who has been traded six times in his professional career and has never spent more than three seasons with the same team.

That’s not so much a reflection of poor performance on his part as much as the nature of the business. Left-handed relievers are both a valuable commodity and easily expendable, a fact King came to grips with a long time ago.

“It’s kind of like that racehorse,” he said. “People get on and ride you for a little bit and then go to the next place. But as long as you’re in the big leagues, it doesn’t matter.”

And if King eventually loses his pitching prowess, well, there’s always a future in the women’s fashion business.

“No, it’s not a possible career after baseball,” he said with another hearty laugh. “No, when my career is done, I’m going to sit back and enjoy it.”

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