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12/24/09 10:00 AM EST

Holiday Q&A with Dan Wheeler

Rays reliever talks about Santa, turkey and Larry Bird

ST. PETERSBURG -- Dan Wheeler began his second stint with the Rays when he returned to the team in a 2007 trade. In essence, the veteran reliever has grown up in front of Rays fans.

Last season, Wheeler finished one game shy of his fifth consecutive year of 70-plus appearances; his 355 appearances over the past five seasons are fourth most in the Major Leagues.

A battler on the mound, Wheeler allowed just nine walks all season, and just three -- of which one was intentional -- after May 29, finishing the season 4-5 with a 3.28 ERA.

Wheeler has been the consummate professional on and off the field for the Rays. He and his wife, Stephanie, live in nearby Belleair, Fla., with their two young sons, Gabriel and Zachary. They have participated in countless community events for the Rays before and after the season.

MLB.com caught up with Wheeler to talk about Christmas with the native of Warwick, Rhode Island.

MLB.com: What is a typical Christmas morning like for the Wheeler family?

Wheeler: We'd get up Christmas morning and we'd get to go into where the presents were laid out, not opened -- just like Santa Claus left them out. Then we'd have to wait until everybody else got up to open the packages. There were always a lot of packages because my dad came from a large family. My dad would always cook us breakfast. We used to kid that he could be a short order cook because he cooked a good breakfast, usually bacon and eggs. For Christmas dinner we'd have turkey. We were a turkey family, with all the traditional stuff.

MLB.com: Did you have anything special set for Christmas Eve?

Wheeler: We'd always go to church on Christmas Eve and later we'd always get to open one present, so you always looked forward to being able to open that one present.

MLB.com: Looking back, were there any favorite gifts that really stood out when you were a kid?

Wheeler: Yeah, I'd have to say when I was eight or nine, Santa brought a basketball goal to my garage. Growing up in Rhode Island, I was a huge Larry Bird fan. I remember that one well.

MLB.com: What were some of the things you'd watch on TV around the holidays?

Wheeler: I always liked Scrooge, the original movie. Not the one with Bill Murray, the black and white version, the old one.

MLB.com: Do you have any favorite Christmas or holiday music?

Wheeler: Never really got into the music that much.

MLB.com: Talk about what it's like now to be a parent and get to see the glow on your children's faces around Christmas time.

Wheeler: It's really cool. Christmas was always special to me, so it allows me to feel like a kid again when I see the looks on their faces, how excited they are about Santa and all. It's really nice.

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