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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

DeJesus fits perfectly with the Rays Way

PORT CHARLOTTE — His first major-league hit came 11 years ago, a stand-up triple, but he has never acted as if he was born on third base. Most of the teams he played for never got to first. When he was with Kansas City, the Royals lost 100 games for three consecutive seasons. And he was a Cub.

So amazing things began to happen after Rays outfielder David DeJesus was traded to his fifth major-league team, his third in 2013 — Tampa Bay, last August.

Then there was the September night DeJesus delivered a walk-off win over Baltimore at the Trop with a single in the 18th inning. He figured everyone was exhausted. Instead, he was guest of honor at the typical Rays postgame frat-house victory party.

“That blew me away,” DeJesus said. “I loved the idea: Celebrate every win. Because wins are tough to come by, and my career has been a testament to that.”

And there was the champagne that went with winning 163 against Texas and the AL wild-card game. He's played 1,277 regular-season games and he'd never been to a postseason.

“The cool part is getting that champagne poured on you,” DeJesus said. “It hurts so good. It burns a great feeling into you.”

DeJesus, 34, was asked how many times he'd come to spring training with a projected contender.

“Zero,” he said.

Until now.

Somehow, the Rays always make the pieces fit, and the upbeat DeJesus, with a two-year deal, is one of those pieces. In fact, he could be the quintessential Rays Man — nothing flashy, but just the kind of multi-tasker this team loves. He's never been a true star — hey, he even had second billing in his home for a while, when his wife, Kim, a former model, participated in CBS' “Amazing Race.” But he's a .279 career hitter, a 10-year man. He has stuck by sticking to it.

He is here to play left field, or center, even if it's late, just for defense, or wherever else the Rays need him, DH included, near the top of the order or second or even the bottom.

“Anywhere,” DeJesus said. “Anything.”

“This guy normally works a really good at-bat with good decision making,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He can hit for a decent average and on-base percentage and there's some power. He hits righties really well. According to our research, he's been an above-average outfielder at all the different spots you put him.

“And then, on top of that, just the teammate he is. He's never going to complain I'm not playing enough, He knows his role, he knows it well, so he fits into what we're doing extremely well. He's always upbeat, always smiling, ready to play.”

David DeJesus is always smiling. He has played long enough to know what matters and what doesn't, and that includes off the field. The David DeJesus Family Foundation aims to help families in crisis with basic needs, or his charitable work with his wife to fight ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. This guy might lead the majors in getting the big picture.

“I just want to play the game the right way,” DeJesus said. “I'm honored to be a major-league baseball player. I want to look back when it's done and say, 'Man, I gave it everything.' ”

Anywhere. Anything.

“A few years back, with Oakland (in 2011), it was the first time I struggled in my career, and they dropped me down in the lineup. It hits you hard. Why am I not batting near the top? But as you get older, it doesn't come down to yourself.

“I can either just keep being negative about it or be a positive player, help the team, help my teammates, be a light in the clubhouse, not a guy always walking around, like, man, I should be playing. That's a cancer. I didn't want to be a cancer. You can grow or you can wallow in your sorrows. I decided to grow. … If I'm not playing today, if I can pick up a teammate, that's my job that day.”

Stand-up guy.

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