By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Dana Eveland has not really had the opportunity to settle down in one place throughout his career.
The 33-year-old has been with 12 organizations — including one in Korea — over the last 14 years, and this spring training is the first time since 2008-09 he has been in the same Major League training camp in consecutive years.
“It’s nice to not be the new guy,” Eveland said. “You get used to it. Being the new guy, when you’ve done it 11 times, is not a big deal. But it is cool knowing faces and knowing guys already.”
Eveland, who has been traded five times in his career, says it’s much easier getting acclimated to a new team when you start fresh in the beginning of a new season.
“When you sign with a new team … in season is really hard,” he said. “You go to a team that’s already set and already has their cliques. During spring training, everybody is still trying to get a feel on each other.”
The left-hander was drafted in the 16th round in 2002 by the Milwaukee Brewers. He stayed with their organization for four years before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
From there, he spent time with the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles.
As a free agent after being with Baltimore, Eveland was looking for guaranteed money from an MLB team, but couldn’t find it. That’s when his career took an unexpected turn.
“It’s at that point in your career where you’re like I need to make as much money as I can because I know I only have a handful of years. If you’re lucky, you pitch until you’re 37 or 38,” he said.
So Eveland signed a contract with the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean Baseball Organization, packed up, and headed over to Asia.
Spring training that year was in Japan, and Eveland brought his wife Ashley and sons Brody and Asher, which he says was a mistake because the experience wasn’t what he expected.
“I thought I was going to have more time,” he said. “Spring training here, we get all kinds of hours every day to spend time with your family. Over there, it feels like you’re with the team the whole day except for bed time. We had night practices where you have to practice your mechanics in the parking lot of the hotel we were staying at. There was no ball or anything, just doing drills. It was crazy.”
He spent the 2013 season with the Eagles, where he went 6-14 as a starter, with a 5.54 ERA. In the KBO, back then at least, there were only nine teams with two foreign players on each team. So not only was the 6-foot-1, 235-pound, bearded Eveland noticeable around town, he was famous.
“It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever really been a celebrity,” Eveland said. “It was different. Walking around, going to the grocery store and people will stop you for pictures. No matter where you are, you’ll get asked for autographs. Just being recognized, it was crazy.”
Eveland wasn’t re-signed by Hanwha after the season, but ended up being a positive because he received a minor-league offer to play in the New York Mets’ organization in 2014 and made the most of that opportunity. Beginning the season in Triple-A, Eveland was eventually called up to the big team and had one of his best seasons, appearing in 30 games with a 2.63 ERA.
He’s now been with the Rays since December of 2015, with stops in the Boston Red Sox organization (he never played in the MLB for them), Atlanta Braves and the Orioles one more time.
Last season, Eveland appeared in 33 games for Tampa Bay, allowing 23 runs in 23 innings of work.
PORT CHARLOTTE — All Tampa Bay players have been at camp for a few days now, but Sunday was the first day of full-squad workouts for the Rays.
Prior to hitting the practice fields, vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and general manager Erik Neander as well as manager Kevin Cash spoke with all 65 players at camp.
“I thought there were some good messages from all parties,” Cash said. “It was quick, concise and direct. Hopefully, the players appreciate that as much as we do giving it to them. The last thing you want to do is bog anything down the first day of practice.”
According to Cash, who is beginning his third year with the team, he spoke for roughly six minutes his first season, 90 seconds last year, and tried to hit the under this time around.
It wasn’t just the bosses talking, either, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier spoke up.
“I loved it,” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “I think it was a surprise to us all, but also something that I think we were all thinking that it’s not fun to lose. It was good to have that message come out early on.”
During infield drills, the top group featured Logan Morrison and Rickie Weeks at first base, Brad Miller at second base, Evan Longoria at first base, and then Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham and Daniel Robertson rotated between shortstop, third and second.
Miller, who is new to the position, looked fundamentally sound at second base, Cash said.
“Brad looked outstanding today. I shouldn’t need to say this, but I told him, it looked like you were a natural turning double plays,” Cash said. “It looked like there was natural comfort there.”
TAKING IT EASY
One player not out with the “A” team was Matt Duffy, who had surgery on his left heel in 2016. According to Cash, it would be fair to assume Duffy and potentially Morrison, Mallex Smith and Steven Souza won’t play in the beginning part of spring training games.
Batters took live batting practice from Rays pitchers Sunday. The pitchers drawing the most attention were flame-throwers Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek, who didn’t give hitters much of a chance on Day 1 of practice.
PLENTY OF EYES
More than 500 fans were in attendance to watch the first day of full-squad workouts. Sunday was also spring training season ticket holder appreciation day.