2/11/2014 3:47 P.M. ET
Finding hidden bullpen gems key to Rays' success
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
ST. PETESRBURG -- Finding bullpen pieces has been an integral part of the Rays' success since 2008.
Normally, it's a veteran reliever signed to a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League camp. In the past, the Rays have seen the likes of Joel Peralta, Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier and Juan Cruz, to name a few, come aboard via Minor League deals and contribute in a big way.
Choate, who now pitches for the Cardinals, shed light on the experience of being a Major Leaguer and having to sign a Minor League deal when the veteran left-hander spoke about the situation he faced prior to joining Tampa Bay in 2009.
"I didn't really have any other options," said Choate, who described having his hand forced after enduring a "roller-coaster" year in 2008. "So I had to go to the Dominican [for winter ball], and I pitched pretty well."
Despite pitching well in the Dominican Winter League, Choate's agent informed him that the Rays wanted to sign him to a Minor League deal, adding, "But they're going to invite you to camp."
"I'm like, 'Is that all there is? Is that all I really have?'" Choate said. "He told me, 'This is going to be your best opportunity, I'm going to tell you that. They have J.P. Howell and don't really have any other lefties.'"
So Choate signed a Minor League deal, "basically because I had to and didn't have anywhere else to go."
"You're always looking for an invite to camp so they can at least see you," he said.
Tampa Bay ended up signing Brian Shouse, another veteran left-hander, before camp, which pretty much determined Choate's fate.
"I got sent down about halfway through camp," Choate said. "They were honest with me. They were like, 'Hey, we just don't have enough innings for you here. We can't get you work, so we're going to send you to Minor League camp.'"
Despite getting sent to Minor League camp, Choate continued to pitch for the Major League club during Spring Training games and was told by pitching coach Jim Hickey that the Rays loved his ground-ball ratio, but Shouse was going to be the guy. But they wanted Choate to know that he remained on their radar.
In turn, Choate told Tampa Bay how much he liked the organization, but he pointed out he had an out in his contract that he would have to exercise if he wasn't in the Major Leagues by June, because he knew he was going to pitch well enough to merit a spot in the bigs.
Subsequently, Choate joined the Rays in May, leading to 146 appearances in his two seasons with the team.
"[Tampa Bay] treated me so well that I would definitely take less to return there if it ever came to that," Choate said. "Playing for Joe [Maddon] and the Rays was a great experience for me."
Price stepping up for Big Brothers Big Sisters
ST. PETERSBURG -- For the third consecutive year, Rays ace David Price will help to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters by offering his support to the organization.
Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs adult mentors with children who are facing adversity. The volunteers (called "Bigs") spend one-on-one time with their mentees (called "Littles"), helping with homework, going to the park or watching a ballgame. Funds raised during the David Price Bowl For Kids' Sake fundraiser will help pay for the background checks and training of volunteers, as well as the support and supervision of each Big/Little "match."Last year, Price's efforts brought in more than $30,000; he's hoping to see that number climb this year.
"I've had a chance to meet some of the Bigs and Littles, and it's amazing to hear about their relationships," Price said. "Kids who may have been struggling in school end up having better grades and staying out of trouble, thanks to the support of their Big Brother or Big Sister. Now, these same kids will have a chance to pursue their dreams, whether it's being a baseball player or whatever the future holds."
Here's how you can join Price and help kids in the community:
Join Price's online fundraising team at www.bbbsfl.org by clicking on the bowling logo, or contact Amy Hollington at 813-769-3636.
The top 30 fundraisers (who raise a minimum of $1,000) in paid donations received by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay by March 21 will be eligible for the VIP Party, which includes an autographed David Price baseball, free bowling games, food, drinks, T-shirts and prizes.
The David Price VIP Bowling party on March 29 is by invitation only, and details will be sent to guests.
For updates and a chance to win more prizes, follow Price on Twitter @Davidprice14 or follow @BBBS_TampaBay.
Former reliever Cormier a CrossFit ambassador
ST. PETERSBURG -- Lance Cormier's career took an interesting turn after retiring from baseball following the 2011 season. The former Rays right-hander and his wife, Jamie, opened a gym -- CrossFit Candor -- in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Cormier ended the 2011 season in Tampa Bay's Minor League organization at Triple-A Durham, finishing the season hurt.
"I got back home and I was rehabbing, and Jamie had started doing [CrossFit workouts] then, so she was doing everything," Cormier said. "It was interesting, because I enjoy working out. I enjoy that kind of stuff. She was going, and I'd watch."
Cormier had considered getting into the insurance business, but he opted to go into business with Jamie once he made his decision to no longer pursue a career in the Major Leagues.
"I just realized that insurance wasn't for me," Cormier said. "Jamie had some complications with our second baby, and we realized, 'Let's do something together.' We kept praying over it, and this is what it kept leading us to."
In addition to being a hands-on owner who takes part in the instruction, Cormier is a devotee to the rigorous CrossFit training regimen.
"I started loving it right away," said Cormier, who works out six days a week. "A lot of baseball players don't like working out at all. But people who enjoy working out, when they get out of it -- I guarantee you -- they get into it, because there's just something competitive-wise that gets the juices flowing and little things like that."
• New Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan's dog, Copperridge What's Your Dream, won a Best of Breed ribbon at the Westminster Kennel Club show Monday in New York. The Australian Shepherd finished ahead of 43 other dogs.
Hanigan texted The Associated Press: "It's incredible that she went from my No. 1 bed buddy to best of breed at Westminster!!!"
The Rays acquired Hanigan from the Reds in a December deal. The catcher is expected to start the lion's share of games for the team this season.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.