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Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017
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Tampa Bay Rays

Inside clubhouse, Rays get ready for opener

ST. PETERSBURG - Matt Moore pitched in the playoffs last year, so he's no stranger to red, white and blue bunting around Tropicana Field or the unusually large number of media members on hand for today's events. But today is Opening Day and it's Moore's first Opening Day as a big leaguer, and he's as excited, as you might expect. "It feels like Christmas morning," Moore said. Plenty of happy faces around Tropicana Field, from the Rays front office staff to the players to manager Joe Maddon, who said he had butterflies while driving this morning to the stadium.
Lots of handshakes as everyone wished everyone a good season – the players, coaches, public relations staff, even reporters who cover the team. Rays radio play-by-play man Dave Wills wished everyone a Happy New Year. Tossing and turning Bench coach Dave Martinez made his first Opening Day lineup in 1986, when he was a player with the Chicago Cubs. He is as excited for today as he was any of the 16 openers he enjoyed as a player. He's also more nervous. "I couldn't sleep last night," Martinez said. "Kept waking up." Why? "Thinking about the lineup, the boys," he said. "You want them all to get off to a great start." Cleanup? Me? Rays second baseman Jeff Keppinger was a little startled when he saw he was batting fourth and serving as the Rays designated hitter today against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia. "I'd say that's probably two things I never envisioned I'd do," Keppinger said. Keppinger, who joined the Rays this season, was sure Maddon had his reasons. "Maybe my numbers against Sabathia are good," he said. "I couldn't tell you." They are. Keppinger is 6-for-14 lifetime against Sabathia. He's also a .324 career hitter against lefties. Maddon made the move without checking Keppinger's numbers, saying he wanted someone who can make contact hitting behind Evan Longoria, who bats third. Keppinger never started a big league game batting cleanup, and couldn't remember hitting cleanup in the minors, college, high school or even Little League. "I think (Maddon) saw the potential," Keppinger joked. He has 32 career home runs. The other designated hitter today, New York's Alex Rodriguez, has 629.
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