This winter, as our desire to see some actual baseball being played has reached a tipping point, we’ve been covering ex-Rays who have been playing in the various Caribbean Winter Leagues. On Saturday night, it was the Yaquis de Obregon going up against the Aguilas de Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League Championship Series with the Yaquis looking to complete a 4-game sweep of Mexicali to clinch a berth in the Caribbean Series.
Mexican Pacific League: Yaquis de Obregon 16, Aguilas de Mexicali 3
Wes Bankston did his part for Mexicali in this one, going 1 for 3 with a solo homer and a walk, but it was far too little and far too late as Obregon moved onto the Caribbean Series in resounding fashion with a blowout win. Batters number 1 to 5 in the Obregon order all had multiple hits and at least one extra-base hit, including 3-hit games by Alfredo Amezago and Barbaro Canizares and homers by Canizares and Jesse Gutierrez, but we’ll focus on the ex-Rays at the bottom of the Yaquis’ lineup, Iker Franco and Juan Miranda. Franco has been renowned for his handling of the Obregon pitching staff all winter, but he was able to have a nice game with the bat as well in this one, going 2 for 4 with 2 doubles, an RBI, and a run scored. It wasn’t just an offensive effort for Franco either as he was able to weather a tough outing from starter Roman Colon where he lasted just 3 innings to help this blowout from becoming a slugfest. Miranda, meanwhile, was the only Obregon hitter without an RBI after a bizarre game, going 1 for 2 with two hit-by-pitches and 2 runs scored. Miranda would prefer to get on base in less painful ways, but he has settled in nicely as the Yaquis’ first baseman since joining them for the MPL playoffs. Jon Weber, meanwhile, went 0 for 3 for Mexicali, seeing an incredible MPL regular season conclude with a disastrous playoff experience, and that especially stings for Weber because he was going to need to continuously come up huge to even think of getting a minor league contract from a big league organization and have the slightest chance of fulfilling his dream of playing in the major leagues. Rooting for the Rays players in this game, it was a bittersweet experience as Franco, Miranda, and the Yaquis move on but Bankston, Weber, and the Aguilas have been sent packing as Obregon sweeps the MPL Championship Series and will play in the Caribbean Series versus the winners of the leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.
Unfortunately joining the ranks of the ex-Rays is a pitcher that was beloved by Rays fans for years and years and was a central part of the Rays’ success, James Shields. Traded by the Rays to the Kansas City Royals this offseason, Shields talked to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times about leaving the area for the final time.
“There’s a lot of memories, so many memories, good memories,” Shields said. “There’s just a lot of stuff. It’s amazing to sit here and think about how many years and how many things I’ve done. It’s awesome.”
Sad a bit, too. Amid the obligatory excitement Shields shares about joining the Royals thanks to the December trade, he admits there is pain in leaving, especially of someone else’s volition.
“It’s just bittersweet for me,” he said.
Even when Rays fans saw what the Rays were going to be getting in return for Shields- a group of the Royals’ top prospects headlined by outfielder Wil Myers- it was a major shock for Rays fans to realize that Shields, the most dependable pitcher the Rays have even seen, the pitcher they stuck with through all his ups and downs in 2010 and were rewarded with a huge 2011 and second half of 2012, and the pitcher they had dubbed “Big Game” for his ability to always come through when it mattered most was gone.
A move is hectic for any family with young kids, including a pro ball player with a $10 million salary. They’ve been packing for weeks, planning to sell the Clearwater house they had built four years ago and move to a new home base near San Diego, then figure out where James will live during spring training in Arizona and eventually get a house to rent for the season in Kansas City.
So when James, now 31, and Ryane took a break the other night, all they wanted was a quick bite at Carrabba’s — but came home with much more.
“We had people passing us notes like we were in high school again,” he said. “They didn’t want to bother me at dinner, but they said they were going to miss me and that I’ve done a lot in this community.
“I think that’s great. That’s the stuff I’m going to miss. A lot of people say, ‘Yeah, you did a great job. You’re doing great with the team.’ But what I’m most proud of is that a lot of people are going to miss me in the community and some of the things I’ve done.”
Shields went from 16th round longshot to one of the moved beloved athletes in the history of Tampa Bay sports. Rays fans can never forget him, and it’s going to be a major shock seeing him in another uniform next season. Shields left a final message for Rays fans and all his teammates, coaches, clubhouse personnel, and most of all, friends, in the Rays organization.