ST. PETERSBURG -- Now that the decision has been made by the Rays to not exercise Kelly Shoppach's 2012 option, the veteran catcher wanted to express his feelings about how special he considered his time with Tampa Bay.
"I think it's important to tell people how thankful I am to the people who supported me, even though it was tough at times. I hope everyone knows that the way I played on the field was with everything I had, even if I was good or bad," Shoppach said. "I really enjoyed myself with the Rays. I love the guys in the clubhouse. I really liked that young staff. They were a lot of fun to work with. We had a lot of different types of personalities among the group, and getting to learn those guys [was fun]. I just really enjoyed being out there on the field with those guys."
Rather than exercise Shoppach's $3.2 million option for 2012, the Rays elected to buy out his contract for $300,000. Nevertheless, Shoppach has not ruled out the possibility playing for Tampa Bay next season.
"I think it's important for both sides to decide what they are going to do," Shoppach said. "But like I said, I enjoyed playing for the Rays. I enjoyed the guys. I would have no problem re-signing back there."
Shoppach understood the Rays' thinking in not re-signing him.
"The way I understand it is they're not exactly sure what they want to do," Shoppach said. "And like [Rays executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman] said, they want to keep all of their options open. I mean, you commit that much to a player and you expect him to be an everyday guy, I would expect. They value each position at a certain level, and that's how they operate and that's how they're able to function on a smaller budget."
Shoppach's offense did not come close to what the Rays had hoped for when they acquired him after the 2009 season. But in his defense, he never worked as the everyday catcher, and he hurt his right knee early in the '10 season and missed two months while recovering from surgery.
Shoppach threw out 15 of 41 attempted basestealers in 2011, which was good for second best in the Major Leagues. In two seasons with Tampa Bay, Shoppach hit .185 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs, which fell short of the Rays' expectations that were built on his 2008 season in Cleveland, when he hit .261 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs. He regrets not winning an everyday job so he could have enjoyed the benefits of daily at-bats.
"That opportunity only came up one time [in my career], and that's when Victor Martinez got hurt in Cleveland," Shoppach said. "And that was the only time I've gotten everyday at-bats. Trying to manage being a backup and being an everyday guy can be challenging at times. But I'd love to say that with at-bats -- I know with more at-bats, you get more comfortable. You're not in such a hurry to hit. You understand that you have three strikes. And the only way for the power numbers to be there is to get more at-bats.
"That doesn't necessarily mean that I just walk into a situation and that's what I expect. I understand that you earn that opportunity. You earn that chance to get everyday at-bats, and when you play well and perform well, you get to play a little bit more, which is the way it worked down the stretch in September and in the playoffs this season."
Shoppach was told early in September that he would not be catching much the rest of the 2011 season. Nevertheless, he remained professional. He never pouted, and when his chance came, he took advantage of that opportunity and played most of Tampa Bay's remaining games behind the plate.
"I think that's important as a professional," said Shoppach, who batted .400 and hit two homers during the Rays' American League Division Series vs. the Rangers. "One of my goals, always, is to be a good teammate. That's one thing you can control every day, how you interact with your other teammates. Because even though I might not be playing in the game that day, I can help someone else somewhere, maybe a starting pitcher or a reliever when I go down to the bullpen and just chitchat about hitters and what I've seen.
"Foremost, that's the most important thing, and I try to tell young players that as well. You can always control your effort, your attitude. You can't always control the outcomes of the games and your performances. But understanding that, I know that in order for me to be prepared at all times, because at a moment's notice, things can change and you can be in their plans every day."
Shoppach is completely over his knee injury from 2010. He arrived to camp this past spring in good shape and he plans to be physically ready for whatever opportunity comes his way for the 2012 season.
"No doubt about it, I'm over [the knee injury], and that's a fact," Shoppach said. "I gave a lot of credit to my strength coach this past offseason, and I'm excited about working with him again. I've already gotten started to get back in there. When you're physically healthy every day and not being worried about your body aching, you have a freedom to go out there and do the best that you can. Not worrying or having any reservations about playing, you just go play, like you were a kid again."
Shoppach said that he had a pleasant conversation with Friedman before he told him the news that the Rays were not exercising his option.
"We chatted a bit," Shoppach said. "Andrew's pretty easy to talk to -- he always has been. I feel like I'm pretty approachable for the most part, too. We just chitchatted about fantasy football a little bit. And I think when I got hurt two years ago, it was going to be tough for them to feel confident enough for them to pick up this option.
"When you miss two months from any baseball season, it takes some time to come back and it takes time to get your confidence back. I know this year, I was getting more confident. I hate that the season ended. I would have liked to continue. Now I'll scramble throughout the offseason to identify the things that were helping me do well at the end of the year."
While in the coming weeks or months, Shoppach will obviously experience the anxiety of looking for a new team, he did have a respite this past weekend when Baylor University inducted him into its Sports Hall of Fame during the school's homecoming weekend. Shoppach was an All-America catcher at Baylor.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.