Tampa Bay Rays
Matt the bat: A fixture in right field?
ST. PETERSBURG - There was champagne and roses and a room in the Clontarf Castle Hotel, with a romantic view of Dublin. "I'm a romantic guy," Matt Joyce said. He was down on one knee, a diamond ring in one hand. "What are you doing?" asked his soon-to-be fiancee, Randi Jones."I'm proposing," Joyce said. Randi said yes. "She freaked out," Joyce said. The Clontarf Castle was built in 1837. There have been castles on the same site in Dublin, Ireland, since 1172. Joyce used the historic setting to pop the question a few weeks ago during the final night of a visit to the land of his and Randi's ancestors. "It was really cool. Really, really cool," Joyce said. "It was a good time." Joyce has since shifted his attention to another piece of land, though not quite as historic as a centuries-old castle. Right field at Tropicana Field dates back to 1998, and it's there for Joyce, not just for the asking, maybe, but with a strong spring training. The Rays are planning a platoon in right field with Ben Zobrist, Gabe Kapler and Joyce, the 25-year-old Tampa native. "He knows there's an opportunity now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's pretty much if he wants to go and grab it. It's right there for him." The left-handed-hitting Joyce made the Opening Day roster last season after Fernando Perez, who was supposed to replace the injured B.J. Upton, dislocated his wrist in spring training. Joyce spent two stints with the Rays, batting .188 in 11 games with three home runs and seven RBIs. He spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Durham, where he hit .273 with 16 homers, 66 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and team-highs of 73 runs and 67 walks. "The ball comes off his bat differently," Maddon said. "This guy has a broad talent, hitting-wise, and also I think he can be a pretty good outfielder. He's worked a lot on his base running. He can be a big impact guy, there's no doubt in my mind, and with severe power. He's got severe power. We've just got to bring that out of him, and actually he's got to bring that out of himself, too. A lot of that has to do with what he's thinking and his motivation and what does he want to be and how does he want to be that." For the record, Joyce is thinking he can win a job this spring. He believes he benefited from the 417 at-bats he received at Durham last summer. Joyce even believes the bouncing between Triple A and the majors, which he did that past two seasons - first with the Tigers, then with the Rays - will help. "For the past two years it's kind of been a roller coaster," he said. "The experience with that, I think, has been very beneficial heading into this year. I think it will help me calm the nerves and relax a little bit more." It will serve Joyce well to be as relaxed this spring as he was walking around Ireland for a few days hiding a diamond ring and a secret. Last March he was stressed about a leg injury that forced him to the training room during the first half of camp - and about where he would begin the season. This time, Joyce said he will worry only about getting ready for Opening Day and let his talent take care of the rest. "I want to show them what I can do," he said. "It's as simple as that. You like to think it's as simple as that, but sometimes it's not."
Reporter Roger Mooney can be reached at (813) 259-7227.