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Dan Wheeler
Ocean State's Wheeler making waves

By Mychael Urban / MLB.com

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States.

It's so small that it often has to share space with a few other smallish Northeastern states on puzzle maps.

But the good folks of the Ocean State were big into baseball as one of their own played a key role in the Rays' unlikely postseason march.

Right-hander Dan Wheeler was born in the "Little Rhody" capital of Providence, but he starred for the Patriots of Pilgrim High School in Warwick, R.I., which boasts the state's second-largest population at just under 88,000 residents.

"I'm proud of being from Rhode Island," Wheeler told MLB.com before Game 4 of the Rays' American League Championship Series win over the Red Sox. "There aren't too many of us who come from a small state like Rhode Island, and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Rhode Island -- kind of make a name for it."

Wheeler is right: Rhode Island is not exactly a hotbed of sports superstars. But it has produced its share of pro athletes.

One of them is Providence native Paul Konerko, whose White Sox were knocked out of October by Wheeler's Rays in the AL Division Series.

Another is East Providence's Davey Lopes, a four-time All-Star second baseman with the Dodgers who's the first-base coach for the World Series champion Phillies.

And like Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli was born in Woonsocket (population: about 44,000). Baldelli went to Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick.

Age: 30

Hometown:
Warwick, R.I.

College:
Central Arizona College

MLB Teams:
TB, NYM, HOU

Video | Player bio
Wheeler, who worked 3 1/3 innings in Tampa Bay's epic five-hour, 27-minute victory in Game 2 of the ALCS, is the only product of his high school to reach the big leagues, and it seems fitting that Wheeler's story reads a little bit like a movie script.

The motion picture machine -- a machine showing animated pictures -- was first patented, after all, in Providence in 1867.

More than a century later, motion pictures and animation brought fame and fortune to two of Wheeler's fellow Rhode Islanders, and tucked within the titles of their work can be found references that relate -- albeit unintentionally -- to Wheeler's wild ride in the 2008 ALCS.

Natives of Cumberland, R.I., Peter and Bobby Farrelly are better known as Hollywood's Farrelly Brothers, and while "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber" are their most popular comedies, they also directed "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Fever Pitch."

"Me, Myself and Irene" is about a Rhode Island State Trooper, and Wheeler was nothing if not a trooper when asked to come on with two runners on and nobody out in the eighth inning of Game 2. He allowed the tying run to score on a wild pitch in the eighth, but he was happy to temporarily expand his role from closer to long man, staying on into the 11th.

"He was in the zone," fellow Rays reliever J.P. Howell said of Wheeler. "He could have gone nine or 10 innings. ... He's my hero."

The main character's heroes in "Fever Pitch"? None other than the Boston Red Sox.

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.