Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and Mike Smith all took some cuts in the cage and threw out the first pitch(es) before the Rays played the Red Sox. I'm trying to figure out the most amazing thing about this part of the story: Smith, who had never hit a baseball before, belted a home run into the bleachers in left.
I understand he's from Canada and all, but never hitting a baseball? That's tough in and of itself to swallow. But hitting one into the stands your first time swinging a baseball bat? Incredible.
"Dream come true," Smith said. "It felt like butter coming off the bat. I've always wanted to try that. Close my eyes and swung, and it went out. I'm pretty proud."
Rays manager Joe Maddon was pretty impressed by it. "That was well struck," he said.
Purcell didn't have as much luck when stepping to the plate. "I don't really know what I'm doing," Purcell said. "So I'm just swinging for the fences." Good luck with that swing, Teddy!
As for Stamkos, the restricted free agent everybody wants to know about, well his day was just about baseball. A shortstop growing up, Stamkos didn't look like a fish out of water, sending a couple of balls deep to the outfield. He said that he now appreciates how tough baseball is.
Of course, Smith is probably wondering what the big deal is. He did get one other taste of big-league ball. After rounding the bases for his home run trot, he was greeted with a shaving cream pie to the face.
Ah yes, the joys of the offseason.
-- Brian Stubits