Will Rhymes knew what his role would be the moment Rays manager Joe Maddon looked at him.
06/29/2012 4:24 PM ET
Rhymes steps in when Rays need him
Rays infielder has run with opportunity from Tampa Bay
By Bruce Lowitt / MLBPLAYERS.com
The Rays were leading, 4-0, on June 10 at Miami's new Marlins Park, but starter James Shields gave up doubles to Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez to start the bottom of the seventh inning.
Maddon wanted right-hander Burke Badenhop and southpaw Jake McGee to start warming up. Problem was, the dugout phone to the bullpen wasn't working. He asked security for walkie-talkies (which arrived later) and told home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild he needed, well, a timeout.
"I knew what was going on," Rhymes said. "Joe was looking up and down the bench and made eye contact with me and that was that. Obviously, I thought that was what we needed."
What the Rays needed was a designated messenger.
"I didn't mind doing it," Rhymes said. "He just told me, 'Go and get Burke and McGee up.'" Rhymes took off for the bullpen in right field.
"He looked the fastest," Maddon joked when asked why he picked Rhymes. "The pitchers are so disinterested at that point, been eating the whole game, not able to run down. He was eager. He had that look in his eye."
When Rhymes arrived at the bullpen, he passed along Maddon's orders in barely two seconds, turned and trotted back.
"There were a lot of Rays fans who came down to Miami for the game or the weekend," he said. "They were yelling stuff as I was running back, so I thought I'd give a little tip of the cap."
When Rhymes ducked into the dugout, you'd have thought he'd just scored a run or driven one in.
"Everybody was giving me high fives," he said. "You have to try to have fun with it. Baseball's a game, and we're just big kids."
It wasn't quite so funny about a month earlier -- not at first, anyway -- when Rhymes was hit on the right arm by Boston left-hander Franklin Morales in the eighth inning at Tropicana Field. He fell down in obvious pain, but soon arose and walked to first base.
Once there, he gestured to Rays coaches that he wanted to come out of the game, took a few steps toward the dugout, then sank to the ground. First-base coach George Hendrick grabbed and held him.
After a few minutes Rhymes regained consciousness. When one member of the medical staff asked him who he was, Rhymes replied, "I'm Batman."
"It was just such a ridiculous question, 'Who are you?' and 'How many fingers am I holding up,'" Rhymes said. "I thought it was funny. I tried to make light of the situation."
Rhymes, a Houston native, graduated from the College of William and Mary in Virginia with a degree in molecular biology. What does he plan to do with it?
"Hopefully, nothing," he said. "I hope I'll play baseball long enough where I won't have to work. I was going to go to medical school, but I got drafted (in the 27th round by Detroit in 2005), so I put that on hold. Now, I'm too old for that.
"I'd like to have a family and stuff. I don't want to be an intern at 36 years old, 40 years old, whatever, trying to raise a family."
Rhymes worked his way up through the Tigers' farm system, making his big league debut July 25, 2010, as a pinch-hitter against the Blue Jays, but spent most of 2010 and 2011 with Toledo, the Tigers' Triple-A farm team.
He said he was told he'd be Detroit's starting second baseman last season. He was -- for 22 games. But batting barely above .200 got him a ticket back to Toledo and, ultimately, free agency on Dec. 12.
On Jan. 19, Rhymes signed with the Rays.
"They told me there were opportunities here," he said. "So, I wasn't surprised, when we had a couple of guys go down, that I got the call. I was certainly appreciative."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.