02/16/09 2:06 PM EST
Burrell trading places this spring
New faces, new role, new home as slugger eases in with Rays
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
"I can't lie, it's different," said Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal during the offseason that brought him to the Rays. "Different faces -- different everything, really -- but change is good and I'm really looking forward to getting this thing started.
"You know, this is what you sign up for when you start playing. You never know what's going to happen. Fortunately, I ended up in a very good organization with a bunch of guys who want to win."
Rays fans will remember last seeing the 32-year-old Burrell during the World Series. When he stepped into the batter's box in the seventh inning of Game 5, Burrell had no hits in 13 at-bats, but he stroked a double off J.P. Howell. Eric Bruntlett pinch-ran for Burrell and scored the game-winning run in the Series-clinching 4-3 win.
Right-hander James Shields called Burrell "the hardest guy on the Phillies to face" during the World Series, "because he just grinded every single at-bat."
"I think I threw 14 pitches an at-bat to him, it seemed like," Shields said. "He's not scared to take his walks -- he's a very patient hitter. He wants to get his pitch. He'll foul pitches off just to get that one pitch. I think he's going to be really good for our team."
During Burrell's tenure with the Phillies, he experienced a love-hate relationship with the raucous Philadelphia fans. Looking in the rearview mirror, he believes that experience benefited his career.
"Personally, as far as playing up there, and going through all of that," Burrell said, "I really think it makes you a better player. This game is difficult. It's difficult every year. And some years, you're going to have tough times. And certainly it's tough to bounce back. But you learn a lot about yourself going through struggles. This game's certainly about struggling.
"But anywhere, if you have pride as a player and integrity, you don't want to go through hard times. You put expectations on yourself and you want to achieve that. And when that doesn't happen it's just instinct to question some things and doubt yourself. To be able to go through that and come out where I have, I feel fortunate. But definitely I think it's made me a better player."
Burrell, who has a .257 career average with 251 home runs and 827 RBIs in parts of nine Major League seasons, appeared to be the best fit for the Rays' designated hitter spot, given the fact he's right-handed, he hits lefties well and he's got some power.
"I haven't done a whole lot of [playing DH]," Burrell said. "I'm trying to talk to as many guys as I can about that, trying to get the right mind-set. The whole deal is getting comfortable. Spring Training is a good time for that. And I haven't spoken to [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] too much about it. But it looks like that's what I'm going to be doing most of my time. It's something I've got to work on and get comfortable with."
Burrell remains friends with Jim Thome, a former teammate in Philadelphia, and has picked the brain of the current White Sox slugger on the finer points about playing DH.
"We've kept in touch all through the years since he left Philly," Burrell said. "And for him, it's really worked out great. And he enjoys [being a DH] and said it's something you have to get your feet wet in. And over time, you have to figure out what will work for you. And I think that's the whole process."
Burrell does anticipate having to find a way to stay busy during the games.
"I don't think I'm going to be somebody who can just sit in the dugout and wait for his time at bat to come up," Burrell said. "So however that's going to be, staying loose and staying in the game, because it is a change. I'd like to say I've got it all figured out, but I think it's a work in process."
Regardless of whether Burrell is playing DH, or an occasional stint in the outfield, he will provide "a big bat for the middle of that lineup" according to new teammate B.J. Upton.
"He can bring us 20-plus home runs -- and any time you can add that to your lineup, it's big," Upton said. "Especially when you add it to the speed we've got and the guys we've already got here, that's going to play a big part in what we do this year."
Burrell will be a big part of what Tampa Bay does this season, but he won't be looked upon as an offensive savior for the Rays.
"I'm here to help," Burrell said. "The core of this team is homegrown and you've got some unbelievable players here. Anything I can do to help, I'm here. That's kind of the way I look at it and I think it's a little more realistic, too."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.