By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Cats and the Internet go hand and hand.
Grumpy Cat was one of the first to go viral and is probably the most notorious. The Tampa Bay Rays even have DJ Kitty, who “performs” during games.
But one of the more famous felines belongs to Rays infielder Matt Duffy.
A few years ago, his dad shared a photo of Duffy playing video games with a 30-pound ball of fluff named Skeeter curled underneath his arm.
And thus, a star was born.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Duffy said. “That was after a game one night. I woke up the next morning, flipped on the TV, Intentional Talk was on MLB Network, and there was the picture of me and Skeeter. And I was just like ‘what the heck?’
“It was blowing up on social media. It went viral and it was totally unexpected. You never know what people are going to latch on.”
Skeeter made headlines across the nation as the internet fell in love with the now 15-year-old cat.
When Duffy was traded last season from the San Francisco Giants, Skeeter had to stay back in California because, as Duffy put it, he was too fat to handle the Florida heat.
“He stays at home with my parents. He’s more of the family cat,” Duffy said. “I travel way too much to take care of an animal at the moment.”
The two were reunited this offseason, and in typical cat fashion, Skeeter barely showed any emotion.
“You come home, he looks, and then he goes back to licking himself,” Duffy said. “There was no big, grand moment when I walked in the door.”
According to Duffy, Skeeter weighed as much as 30-35 pounds at one point, but has slimmed down to a svelte 24 pounds.
Fox Sports ran a story during spring training last season with the headline “Matt Duffy’s fat cat Skeeter in ‘the best shape of his life’ entering spring training.”
In a world where people will do anything for their 15 minutes of fame on the Internet, they’d be jealous to know that Skeeter has more than 17,600 followers on Instagram (@DuffCat35 if you’re interested). It’s that Instagram account, run by his sister, where Duffy gets to see updates of Skeeter just like the rest of us.
Although Skeeter may be in the best shape of his life, Duffy isn’t. The 26-year-old had surgery in September on his left heel, and is still working back toward getting healthy.
“We’re making progress everyday,” Duffy said. “Small progress everyday, that’s the goal, to just move forward. Small or large, just trying not to take any steps back.”
Duffy, who played in 91 games last year between the Giants and Rays, hit .258 with 14 doubles and five home runs. He was the runner up in rookie of the year voting in 2015, when he his .295 with 12 homers, 77 RBI, 28 doubles and 12 stolen bases in 149 games for the Giants.
Although he’s not quite yet on the normal schedule and routine of his teammates, Duffy believes he will be ready for April 2 opening day against the New York Yankees.
NOTES (from Tuesday)
PORT CHARLOTTE — With a rainy day washing out what would be a normal day Wednesday for the Tampa Bay Rays, the only real news was MLB Players’ Association union chief Tony Clark’s visit to camp.
Clark is currently touring all the Grapefruit League facilities to meet with the players, which he did with the Rays for about an hour and half before speaking with the media.
The timing – for those in the media at least – was pretty good because on Tuesday MLB commissioner accused Clark and the MLBPA of having a “lack of cooperation” in talks when it came to talks for pace-of-play rule changes.
“He offered what he offered for whatever reason he offered it,” Clark said. “My commentary is not going to change in response or in reflection against the questions being asked on the topic.”
Among rule changes being discussed is the elimination of the intentional walk as we know it. Instead of a pitcher having to throw four balls, there would just be an automatic walk if the pitcher chose so. This is something Clark said “we have, as part of a broader conversation, agreed to that part.”
Other topics discussed had to do with players speaking their minds. St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler recently made news when he made comments about President Trump.
“One of the things I have always said and will continue to say is, I encourage guys if they have something they’re willing to offer publicly, then offer it,” Clark said. “That doesn’t mean everyone is going to agree. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to disagree.
“But before you’re a ball player, you’re a man, you’re a father, you’re a husband and if there are concerns that are of interest to you – while respecting the fact that you have a uniform on and respecting the fact that you do have a platform that’s a little different than most – if you feel strongly enough in your convictions, and you want to generate conversation, feel free to do so.”
Players were kept from the practice fields on Wednesday because of a stormy day. Instead, pitchers threw bullpen sessions in side the batting cages, and some hitters took batting practice in there, as well.
“It was a perfect day to rain,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Good day just to kind of back off a little bit. We had 11 bullpens that were thrown. They all threw good and we basically looked at position players, ‘if you want to hit, stay after it. If not, get out of here.’ A lot of them got out. They aren’t even throwing batting practice, it’s more tee and flip work in there right now.”
Evan Longoria returned Wednesday after missing two days with a high fever. Considering Sunday was the first day of full-squad workouts, Longoria hasn’t had much of an opportunity to practice prior to Friday’s spring training opener against Minnesota.
“I’ll talk to him and see what day he wants to play his first game,” Cash said. “He hasn’t missed anything other than his body getting out on the field and running around and stuff like that.”
FOR THE KIDS
Tonight is the eighth annual BaseBALL Dinner and Auction, which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County. The dinner is held at Charlotte Sports park. Manager Kevin Cash, Rays staff and players are expected to be at the dinner. To purchase tickets, call 941-235-2472.