PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Last year, Rays manager Joe Maddon was immortalized in the form of a garden gnome giveaway. This year, Tampa Bay has taken it a step further. Enter Mr. Joe-tato Head.
The Rays released their 2014 promotions schedule on Tuesday, a list that features premium giveaway items on 18 Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season. The highlight was undoubtedly the Joe Maddon Mr. Potato Head, which will be handed out on Aug. 2, when the Rays host the Angels at Tropicana Field.
"All this stuff here, it's just part of a lot of the crazy stuff that we do that's also highly complimentary at the same time," Maddon said. "I'm happy to be lionized as Mr. Potato Head, and also knowing that my Polish grandmother used to eat potatoes on a daily basis."
Also included this year are the Wil Myers Rookie of the Year bobblehead (April 5), DJ Kitty Plush Hat (May 10), Chris Archer Christmas Stocking (July 27) and Evan Longoria '80s Hair Band Drummer bobblehead (Sept. 6).
Sundays will once again be Family Fun Days, presented by the Tampa Bay Times. Every Sunday home game will feature free parking for cars with four or more passengers and postgame activities for kids. There will also be special kids promotional items on Sundays, including a Desmond Jennings Baseball Buddy (April 6), Ben Zobrist Wiffle Ball Set (June 22), Yunel Escobar Basketball Hoop (July 13) and Matt Moore Kids Plate and Cup Set (Aug. 31).
On Mother's Day (May 11), the first 10,000 women will receive a Rays Sun Hat. As an early Father's Day celebration on June 8, the first 10,000 men will receive a James Loney Grill Set.
The Rays are also bringing back the Tampa Bay Times Ticket Tandem program, where fans can purchase a special ticket for Friday games that includes an exclusive, limited edition keepsake. Ticket Tandem items include an Alex Cobb Military bobblehead (May 23), Don Zimmer Snowglobe (July 25), Maddon Wine Glasses (Aug. 1) and mascot Raymond Gnome (Aug. 29).
Regular-season single-game tickets will go on sale March 1 exclusively at raysbaseball.com. The Rays are offering a new Flex Pack system -- available in three-, six- and nine-game packs -- through which fans can select their games now and save over 50 percent off regular pricing.
Zobrist echoes thoughts on Rays' chemistry, goals
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Ben Zobrist reported to the Rays' Spring Training clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon and saw a group of mostly familiar faces. He said it felt more like a bunch of friends or family coming back together after a vacation, not like the start of a new season.
But with that continuity, Zobrist said, comes a certain degree of urgency.
"We feel like we've already been through a lot together. I feel like things might get put together really quickly here in Spring Training with the guys that we've added over the course of the offseason. It feels like such a tight group," Zobrist said. "We're going to work to win it all. I don't think anybody's going to be satisfied trying to get to the playoffs or squeaking in like we did last year. It's going to be a lot more of a dedicated drive to win the World Series instead of just winning in general."
Like Rays manager Joe Maddon, Zobrist was comfortable publicly stating such a lofty goal for Tampa Bay this season. The 32-year-old infielder/outfielder said he enters every year with high expectations, tempering them with the understanding that some things are out of the team's control, and he believes it's realistic to expect big things out of the 2014 Rays.
"We know what we're looking at, what kind of club we have. We've dealt with pressure," Zobrist said. "I don't want to put undue pressure on guys, and I try not to do that on myself, but at the same time, we know what we're capable of. Because of that, we want to believe something corporately that is going to happen and kind of take the necessary steps to make it happen over the course of the season.
"We've got to take it day by day, but at the same time, when we look over the course of the season, at the start you're thinking at the highest. I like to think of the best possible scenario and deal with the challenges as they come."
On a personal level, Zobrist said he expects to play more second base this year, considering the crowded outfield mix already includes Desmond Jennings, David DeJesus, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce. Zobrist spent the offseason working on what the club's trainers told him to, and he focused on a few specific things he and hitting coach Derek Shelton discussed last season.
"I just feel healthy, feel strong. I feel like when I go out there and hit in the cage, I'm doing the things that I want to do. It's coming easy right now," Zobrist said. "I know it's not going to be that way when we start games, but as far as my work goes, it's not any sort of grind. It just feels like everything's falling into place the way it's supposed to at this time."
Forsythe impresses Maddon with acumen
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Logan Forsythe said he spent most of his first few hours with the Rays just trying to get used to his new surroundings, but he managed to leave a strong initial impression on manager Joe Maddon.
"He's a very self-confident guy. I think he's very self-aware. He knows himself. He just understands himself well," Maddon said Tuesday, the day Forsythe reported to camp. "We put a lot of stuff out there in the meeting. The sheet that we put out there is one of the more impressive sheets I could possibly read at these meetings regarding what he's capable of doing.
"You bring some things to his attention that he had not been aware of before, and you tell him what you think. We always give the guys a chance to verbalize back at us. Very precise, very erudite kind of guy. He understands. It was good, because when you get somebody like that and you really think highly of him, to know that he also supports his physical abilities with his mental abilities, that's kind of nice. He kind of rang true on all accounts today."
Forsythe, who played five positions last season, said he was excited about the idea of being a super-utility man for the Rays. Tampa Bay values versatility, particularly on defense, and Forsythe believes the Rays were a natural fit considering his skill-set.
"It's definitely a new start, new team, new philosophy. I spoke with Joe and I'm real excited about the versatility aspect, kind of relieved to know that's what I'm going to be used for," said Forsythe, who was acquired in the seven-player trade that sent left-handed reliever Alex Torres to the Padres. "Now, it's just go out there and get my work in."
Forsythe, 27, hit .214/.281/.332 with six homers in 75 games last year. He hasn't been told where he'll spend most of his time defensively, but he came prepared -- with three gloves and two more on the way.
"I kind of knew in advance that Tampa was on me a little bit," Forsythe said. "I didn't know it was going to go as quickly as it did, but yeah, with San Diego, it was a little stressful -- not too stressful -- but the stress kind of went to ease when I got here and that's what I knew I was going to be used for, my versatility."
• With Zobrist and Forsythe arriving on Tuesday, the only players yet to report to camp are right-handers Juan Carlos Oviedo and Juan Sandoval, shortstop Yunel Escobar and infielder Wilson Betemit. Oviedo and Sandoval are both dealing with visa issues.
• Wednesday is the report date for position players, while pitchers and catchers are scheduled to work out between 9:30 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. ET. Among those slated to throw bullpen sessions are David Price, Alex Cobb, Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Nathan Karns and Erik Bedard. Thursday is the first full-squad workout.
• Right-hander Chris Archer threw a bullpen session with Ryan Hanigan on Tuesday, and he said it was "special" to work with the new catcher.
"He's worked with power arms who can also pitch over there with the Reds," Archer said. "So I'm going to use all of his knowledge, and I think that having him is going to help me succeed, because I'm going to have to do a lot less thinking. He's going to know how to attack batters. ... That's just the type of cerebral player that he is. And it's going to make all of our jobs a lot easier."
• Baseball fans tend to get excited this time of spring about the sight of pitchers and catchers going to work in the bullpen. But at this point, Maddon is more interested in the meetings that come before and after those side sessions.
"That's the stuff to me that's most important right now," Maddon said Tuesday. "That's the highlight of my day, personally. ... I'm just not into the performance part of it yet."