Springer gets old number in new home
Rays welcome veteran to bullpen; Choate trades jerseys
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Russ Springer, Tampa Bay's newest member of the bullpen, arrived at his new clubhouse for the first time on Friday, there was something familiar hanging in his locker.
His old uniform number, 36, was adorned on the home Rays jersey he would soon put on for the first time. In his previous two appearances, while on the road at Seattle and Los Angeles, he'd worn No. 37, the number he was given when he was claimed off waivers from Oakland on Aug. 8.
But Randy Choate, who wore No. 36 at the time, didn't like seeing that. So on the flight home from Los Angeles, he arranged with clubhouse attendant Chris Westmoreland to switch jersey numbers, allowing Springer to retain the No. 36 he's worn throughout most of his 14-year career.
"[Choate] said once I got over here, it was bad karma for him to be wearing it," Springer said.
So Springer, new (old) number and all, made his Rays home debut on Friday, throwing a scoreless inning in relief in a 5-2 loss. On Saturday, he entered the game in a big spot in the seventh inning and got out of a jam with runners on the corners and one out, preserving a 5-3 lead.
It was a big spot for the 40-year-old Springer, who has allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings since coming over from the A's, and a nice introduction to the Tampa Bay fan base.
"These guys have made me feel part of it as soon as I came over here," Springer said. "That was a big game and a big situation, but as far as me feeling part of the group, everybody's gone out of their way to make me feel part of the team early on. I feel like I've been part of the group for a while now."
Springer, who still throws in the 90s, will be relied upon as one of the few hard-throwing options in Tampa Bay's bullpen, an irony not lost on the veteran right-hander.
"I learned early on in my career that lighting up the radar gun doesn't get anybody out," Springer said. "The hitters will let you know if you're throwing hard."
He also insists the number switch wasn't necessary for him to perform well, but a nice gesture by Choate that added a level of comfort for Springer. He claims he's not superstitious and Choate joked that there didn't need to be any bribery or money exchanged to make the switch. It was just a simple sign of respect for a pitcher that Choate knows can bring value to an experienced bullpen.
"He has a lot of time in the big leagues," Choate said. "That's a big deal to me. I think you should respect the guys that have been in the game that amount of time."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.