Joyceful in Arizona

On February 19, 2011, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce had no idea he would be going to the All-Star game in July. Nor did he know that one of the giddy Rays fans he spoke to on the phone from FanFest at Tropicana Field that day would be writing about him on this blog nearly five months later.

As a Tampa Bay Rays fan living in Arizona, I don’t have the opportunity to cheer for my team in person at the Trop. However in the day and age of social networking, I have plenty of opportunities to interact with players who utilize Twitter as a way of reaching out to their fans. Since I can’t be at the games, I hang out in the “Twitter Sports Bar” with other Rays fans as we nervously take in every game, make predictions, jeer the opponents and “shout” in all caps when the Rays get a win.

It was one of these fans on Twitter back in February that made the incredible happen for me. She was going to FanFest and the night before, asked for my phone number. The Rays would have a phone-a-friend booth set up and she was certain she could get me a phone call from a player. It was a truly nice gesture from a stranger and I thought it would be incredible, but I didn’t have high hopes of it happening.

When I woke up on the morning of February nineteenth, I had a missed call. I moaned at the thought of having missed a call from a Ray but I was fairly certain the phone-a-friend event had not yet started. When I listened to the voicemail, my heart sank. I had indeed missed a call from FanFest. The message was from Rays radio voice, Dave Wills! My friend had stopped him in the crowd and handed him her sell phone after dialing my number. I could hear how loud it was at the Trop as Dave shouted into the phone, asking me how I was. He didn’t realize he was talking to my voicemail. There was a pause and he continued, “well I just heard you’re a big Rays fan and I wanted to say thanks.” I could then hear him talking to my friend saying he didn’t think I could hear him with how loud it was, and the message ended.

I was terribly upset at having missed a call from Dave Wills. I catch all the radio broadcasts of the games, so nearly every day he and Andy Freed are in my home, bringing me all the excitement I can’t experience in person.

I vowed to not miss another call and my phone stayed with me like glue. When the next call came I did not miss it. A male voice said he was calling from the Rays FanFest at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Matt Joyce would like to talk to me.

“Awesome!” I cried as I clutched the phone to my ear. I know my heart was racing. There are snapshots in time you just don’t forget. Matt got on the phone and said hi and asked me how I was doing. I remember hearing the smile in his voice and thinking he sounded a little nervous. If there had been a picture of my face, I’m sure my grin wouldn’t have fit in the frame.

I can’t remember the conversation word for word but I know he asked me if I missed the Rays during the off-season. I know I rambled on about how it was awful but how much Twitter was helping keep me connected. I know he laughed a lot and I giggled in response. He asked if I would come see them play and I explained I live in Arizona. I mentioned possibly getting out to Anaheim when the Rays played the Angels and he said to be sure to say hi if I did. I remember he called me sweetie at least three times!

All too soon the conversation had to end. He suddenly said something like, “well I just wanted to say hi, take care!”

I gushed as I thanked him for calling and we were both laughing as the call ended. I had somehow made it into my room during the call and was jubilantly bouncing on the bed and I screamed like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert as I pushed the end button with shaking hands.

I immediately began to kick myself for what I could have said to him. I could have called him, Mr. Grand Slam! I do not think there is any way to prepare for a moment like that. It was a phone call I will never forget. For the first month of the season whenever Matt came up to bat, I had to exclaim, “Matt Joyce called me!”

Joyce came to the Rays from the Detroit Tigers in a trade that would eventually land pitcher Edwin Jackson with the Arizona Diamondbacks. On June 25, 2010, Jackson threw a no-hitter against the Rays at Tropicana Field. That could not have been pleasant for Matt as he watched the player he was traded for no-hit his team.

Whether or not Joyce was struggling to find his own with the Rays, he played an integral role in Matt Garza’s no-hitter a month later against the Tigers, the very team for whom Matt Joyce used to play. Both teams were no-hit into the sixth when Joyce hit a grand slam, sealing the win for Garza, who would record the first no-hitter in Rays’ franchise history.

The 2011 season has been a good one for Matt, who led the American League with a .374 batting average in May as Fantasy Baseball participants scrambled to add him to their rosters. Eventually, it appeared as though pitchers were beginning to figure him out and after a slight decline in June, an All-Star bid didn’t seem likely. However, perhaps the greatest judgers of All-Star deserving talent, Joyce’s fellow players, selected him to travel to Arizona this year and participate in the festivities!

“I’m so pumped,” Joyce said. “This is probably the most exciting news I’ve heard in a really long time. It’s unbelievable. A great feeling.”

Matt has no idea that I felt just as pumped back in February when I heard his voice from all those miles away. I’m thrilled for him that his peers voted him on to the All-Star team. For me however, he was an All-Star before he ever played a game this season. All it took was a quick phone call to a giddy Rays fan to make Matt Joyce one of my favorite All-Stars for life!

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