ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | Chuck LaMar stood at the railing of the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field on Wednesday evening, looked out at the Tampa Bay Rays taking batting practice and couldn’t help but smile over the role he played in helping them reach the World Series for the first time.
Few Tampa Bay fans will give LaMar credit, but he did draft and develop a number of current players during his 10-year stint as the organization’s first general manager.
“I take great pride, because this was a startup organization,” said LaMar, who spent one season with the Washington Nationals as a special assistant to GM Jim Bowden and is now director of professional scouting for the Philadelphia Phillies. “People forget that it was a startup organization that was not going to spend a lot of money. They knew that they were going to do it for the long haul. It just took too much time, and I understand that.”
After guiding the then Devil Rays to a 518-777 record during his reign, LaMar was fired when a new ownership group led by Stuart Sternberg took control of the club in late 2005. The Sternberg group, including whiz kid GM Andrew Friedman, has been praised for its ability to turn this longtime loser into American League champs, but LaMar knows it wouldn’t have been possible without the foundation he and his original group established.
Among the Rays stalwarts drafted or acquired by LaMar are outfielders Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli and pitchers Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine.
“They made the moves that they needed to make up top, but the core people that have been here for a long time are going to be here [for Game 1],” LaMar said. “And if you’re sitting where I am, that means a lot.”
For the last month, LaMar’s job has been to scout the AL playoff teams, so he wound up spending a lot of time watching the Rays in person.
And where do LaMar’s loyalties lie for this series?
“I’m a Philadelphia Phillie,” he said. “It’s one of the finest organizations in baseball. They treat their people like the old organizations used to. They’re family-oriented. They care about one another. It shows up on the field. It shows up in the dugout and the clubhouse. I’m proud to be a Phillie, and I hope I’m a Phillie for a long time.”
Zobrist in right
In a surprise move, Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to start utilityman Ben Zobrist in right field for Game 1. It was the first game Zobrist started at all in this postseason and only the second time he started in right field in his career.
“[Zobrist] has been getting work in the outfield,” Maddon said. “He’s done great for us the last week of the season.”
Maddon has been forced to shuffle things around because his right fielder through most of the playoffs, Gabe Gross, has struggled, going 0-for-10 in the American League Championship Series. Baldelli and Fernando Perez also have seen time in right field, and Maddon suggested the team’s right-field rotation could change constantly in this series.
“Right field is the revolving door,” he said. “We’re just going to go based off what we perceive to be the best matchup.”
Coste gets DH nod
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel took perhaps an even bigger chance with his lineup when he decided to make backup catcher Chris Coste his designated hitter.
With Coste hitting eighth and Carlos Ruiz batting ninth and behind the plate, Manuel left himself vulnerable to a possible injury with no bench help.
“I did think a lot about it,” Manuel said. “But I wanted to make sure that I could cover everything.”
Coste is a career .316 hitter against left-handers, and Tampa Bay had Scott Kazmir on the mound for Game 1.