04/08/09 9:24 PM ET
Howell is this year's backpack carrier
Rays reliever given duty due to least amount of service time
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Every year, the member of the Rays' bullpen with the least amount of service time must handle the chore of carrying the knapsack containing snacks and incidentals from the clubhouse to the bullpen.
Despite having spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues, Howell is still the pitcher in Tampa Bay's 'pen with the least amount of service time. The big surprise prior to Tuesday afternoon's opening game of the season wasn't that Howell carried the pack, but that he carried the pink "Hello Kitty" nylon pack.
Closer Troy Percival, who is the de facto ruler of the bullpen, had said prior to Tuesday's game that Howell would not have to carry the pink backpack, rather a camouflage model. Percival noted that someone with that amount of service time shouldn't have to carry a pink backpack and that they would "save the pink one for September" when the rookies begin to arrive.
However, the camouflaged pack was left behind in St. Petersburg. And rather than have no snacks, Howell carried the "Hello Kitty" model.
"I got bullied by about nine people in here, and Percy wasn't here to help me," said Howell with a smile. "Percy's the main dad, and I've got about nine others who are half dads. So I got bullied."
Percival told Howell he did not have to take the bag.
"But I guess when I wasn't in here, he got pressured and caved," Percival said. "That's all there was to it."
According to Howell, Dan Wheeler ranked as the top bully.
"I'm going to throw him under the bus," Howell said. "Wheeler was definitely was one of the biggest bullies, and even Chico [video coordinator Chris Fernandez]. Chico jumped in there. Chico definitely jumped in there. I'll remember that."
Wheeler enjoyed a chuckle recounting Tuesday's events.
"[Howell] was all excited about doing it," Wheeler said. "But once he started going out there with that pink pack over his shoulder, he didn't want to do it. He tried to put his jacket over the bag, and I said, 'We're going to change this bag [to the camouflaged bag], but if you decide not to do it the right way the first time around, we're going to do it all year.'"
Included in the duty of carrying the bag is packing the bag.
"The main thing is there's candy, meds, Red Bull, and the most important thing you don't want to forget is nail clippers," Howell said.
Knowing what candy each pitcher likes is an important facet to succeeding as the bullpen pack mule. And Howell is a quick study. For example, when asked the candy preference of Percival, Howell didn't hesitate with his answer.
"Percy like's those little Reese's, crushes those," Howell said.
And given the strict policy in the Rays' clubhouse that basically outlaws junk food, Howell understands the importance of loading up the pack for future homestands from the visiting clubhouse when they are on the road.
"We get all the diet stuff at home," Howell said. "They're not eating Nutri-Grain bars. And sushi doesn't fit in there."
Percival said Howell would not be carrying the pink bag out Wednesday night. And sure enough, when Howell walked across the field to the bullpen before the game, the pink bag was not in sight.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.