BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW TIGERS, OOPS, I MEAN RAYS OF MATT JOYCE
Nothing says “hot stove season” quite as much as keeping track of players changing addresses.
Be it via free agent signings or trades or waiver claims, baseball fans everywhere keep on top of the player movement, trying to predict how the shifts will affect their favorite team, or their own fantasy league lineup.
But for the players who get traded, there are some unique issues to deal with, especially for young prospects who have spent all of their career with their original team. As they say about trades, “the first time is the hardest.”
Case in point: hard-hitting outfielder Matt Joyce, who was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays from the Detroit Tigers on Dec. 11 in exchange for pitcher Edwin Jackson.
It was a trade that made sense for both sides. The Rays dealt from the luxury of starting pitching depth to pick up one thing they lacked, a possible right-fielder with power potential. The Tigers added a promising young right-hander to their future rotation.
And Joyce? Well, he admits to still being a tad shell-shocked from the experience.
Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 12th round of 2005 out of Florida Southern, Joyce was something of a surprise call-up in early May this past season when the Tigers summoned him from Triple-A Toledo. He hit his first big league home run on May 10 against the Yankees.
Joyce spent a month in the big leagues before heading back to the Minors, but returned for good in late June when outfielder Magglio Ordonez went on the DL.
Between the two stops, the left-handed hitting Joyce combined for a career-best 25 homers and drove in 74 runs.
Coming into 2008, he’d blasted 17 homers with 70 RBIs and 33 doubles at Double-A Erie in 2007 and 11 homers and 86 RBIs along with 30 doubles at Class A West Michigan in 2006, skipping a level after that campaign.
Joyce got to know a few of his new teammates, as well as reuniting with old ones, last weekend when the Rays sent him to participate in the annual Rookie Career Development Program, a joint venture between the Players Association and Commissioner’s Office where top prospects are given a crash course in issues they will have to deal with in the big leagues such as working with the media, financial responsibility and dealing with outside pressures.
“It was a little different, a little awkward,” Joyce admitted. “It was almost like seeing my old friends across the lines. I know instead of sitting in the dugout with the Tigers, I’ll be seeing them across the field.”
But don’t get the idea he wasn’t excited by the deal.
Joyce was born and raised in Tampa, grew up going to games at Tropicana with his dad Matt, and still calls the area home, as do most of his extended family.
It was just strange.
“It’s weird being traded,” he said. “You want to play for the team you came up with, because you get accustomed to them, you get comfortable with them. And then you get traded and you’re like ‘what did I do wrong?’ You feel a little bit betrayed. But it’s all part of the game.”
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Joyce: The first game I played in the big leagues in front of my dad – it wasn’t my first big league game – he came to Detroit to see me play against the Yankees. He’d never seen me hit a home run in the Minor Leagues and in my first at-bat I hit a home run and he just went nuts. It was the coolest feeling in the world. I came around home and pointed up to him and said ‘That was for you, dad.’ It was against … um … Darrell Rasner. I forgot his name! That would be terrible if you forgot who you hit your first home run off!
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Joyce: I’d probably finish my degree at Florida Southern in marketing or business and go into finance. I used to work at Ameriprize and would have become a financial planner.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Joyce: I like to play a little guitar, I don’t think I’m very talented though. I can’t sing. I can play a little golf but I’m pretty average across the board.
GotMiLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Joyce: I’ve had a couple. I’ve been a waiter at Mimi’s Café where, if you’ve been there, you know they used to wear these aprons that were candy-cane striped. I looked a little … well, I don’t want to say the word … a little different. I’ve been a bagger at Cash and Carry. I’ve been a landscaper. I’ll take the job I have right now.
GotMiLB: What is your guiltiest TV pleasure?
Joyce: I like watching “Heroes,” though I don’t know if that’s too guilty. But everyone wants to be a hero in their own way. I love it.
GotMiLB: What reality TV show would you kick butt on?
Joyce: I always wanted to do (Nickelodeon’s) “Double Dare” when I was growing up. I’m pretty sure it’s not on anymore but it always looked like fun.
GotMiLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
Joyce: Probably a celebrity like Brad Pitt, just to know what he goes through every day with the fans (and being with Angelina Jolie wouldn’t hurt).