By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The 2015 Houston Astros were an unlikely playoff team.
Preseason predictions had them finishing in fourth place in the AL West and hovering somewhere around .500. But with a combination of rising stars and some Cy-Young-worthy pitching, they won 93 games and were a Wild Card team.
It was in that Wild Card game against the New York Yankees where outfielder Colby Rasmus had what he considers the highlight of his career. “People didn’t really think we had a chance going in there against the Yankees,” Ramus said. “That stretch as far as my MLB career – there’s probably a few things from my younger years I cherish a little more – but to be able to do that on that kind of a stage and I just kind of snuck up on folks.”
Ramus, now with the Tampa Bay Rays, was an unlikely playoff hero on that unlikely playoff team.
The Astros won the Wild Card game 3-0 against the Yankees, and it was Rasmus’ second-inning leadoff solo home run which proved to be the game-winner. He went on to hit three more home runs in the five-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the eventual world champions.
“I’m thankful for that time with my teammates and being able to pop champagne,” Rasmus said. “The fun we had, and the enjoyment on some of those boys’ faces starting from the beginning of the season, people didn’t think we even had a chance. To be able to do that, I feel blessed and privileged.”
The 30-year-old signed with the Tampa Bay Rays during this offseason, and didn’t have the opportunity to make any on-field memories with his new teammates until yesterday. Recovering from hip and core-muscle surgery, Rasmus played in his first game of the spring Sunday against the Phillies.
Rasmus struck out in all three at-bats on Sunday, but had a few hard-hit foul balls.
“I was just happy to get him out there,” manager Kevin Cash said after the game. “I haven’t talked to him after the fact, but hopefully he feels good and he’ll be right back out there DHing tomorrow.”
While his teammates have spent the previous 21 games preparing for the regular season, Rasmus has been working hard just to be able to get on the field.
“I’m on that training table getting elbows dug into my groin and some of the lower extremities which isn’t too fun,” Rasmus said. “But that’s part of it. You have to get all those things right. Coming off the surgeries, I have a lot of scar tissue, working my body to get back.”
If you ask athletes what their favorite part of playing their sport is – or what they’ll miss the most after they retire – many will tell you it’s the camaraderie they have with teammates. From the outside looking in, it may appear as if Rasmus missed out on a month of connecting with his teammates, but despite not being on the field, he has found plenty of ways to get that camaraderie in.
“I’m not on the field with them, but we’re in the clubhouse every day. That’s a big part of it,” he said. “A lot of these guys have seen me play, so they know I play the game hard and I try to play the right way.
“I think the biggest thing is coming in every day with an attitude that’s positive and wanting to play the game. Picking guys up when times are tough. Being somebody who they can lean on to give them that spark and give them energy. I try to do that myself. Every day I try to pick guys up and try to smile as much as I can. This game can wear you down and the failures can get to you.”
Despite a few setbacks this spring, Rasmus feels confident he can get to where he needs to be in order to be ready for Opening Day. The Rays, who signed him to a one-year, $5 million contract, will rely not only on his left-handed bat but his defensive skills in the outfield.
Rasmus has the ability, when healthy, to hit .275 with 25 homers, 70 RBI and 70 runs. He also ranked near the top of the league in outfield assists last year as a leftfielder.