Tampa Bay Rays
Managing Can Wait For New Ray Kapler
TAMPA - In describing his first-time starter in center field Thursday, Rays manager Joe Maddon used the old line about him being "a coach on the field." A cliche, if not for the fact Gabe Kapler really is a coach on the field. Kapler, who signed a one-year $1 million contract with the Rays on Jan. 12, managed in the minor leagues in 2007. He returned to the field last year and had a productive year with the Milwaukee Brewers, batting .301 in a part-time role. "I made an emotional decision that I thought was perfect at the time to stop playing baseball and go manage, and I found that I still had a strong urge to continue playing," Kapler said before going 0-for-2 in the Rays' 5-1 spring training loss to the Yankees."So I made an emotional decision to go and an emotional decision to come back. But I never make any apologies for following my heart and doing what feels right in the moment." The muscular Kapler is 33 - about a month younger than Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez - and he appealed to the Rays because he batted .364 against left-handed pitching. That and he's an intelligent player who has a reputation for working and playing hard. Maddon said he was thrilled when executive vice president Andrew Friedman told him the Rays were signing Kapler. "I've been watching him play since he was with the Tigers in 1998 when he first came up, and I've always liked the way he plays," Maddon said. "When he first came up, he had to do some things with his swing - maybe he was a little stiff - but he made some great adjustments. "On the field, he's a very good defensive player, a good base runner ... He's going to set a great example for our guys. When he's on the field, it's almost like having another coach on the field." Kapler managed Single-A Greenville (S.C.) in the Red Sox organization. The team went 58-81 and finished seventh in its division. Rays closer Troy Percival also spent a brief time coaching, serving as a special assignment pitching instructor for the Angels in 2007. "I can't say we didn't have a good club," Kapler said of his experience. "I'd say we had a very young club, and one that developed as the year went on. But the one thing I would say emphatically is that my managerial experience was rewarding and one I'm proud I have." Kapler could start the season in center field if B.J. Upton, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, isn't ready. Otherwise, he'll likely be part of a platoon in right that will include Gabe Gross, along with newcomer Matt Joyce and possibly Justin Ruggiano. Gross and Joyce bat left-handed, and Kapler and Ruggiano bat righty. "I see myself as having the ability to contribute at a really high level and believing that if I perform to my capabilities, great things are going to happen," Kapler said. "And I'm leaving the roles to Joe."