FT. MYERS FL - FEBRUARY 22: Dirk Hayhurst #73 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays fans bid their final adieu to Dirk Hayhurst and Dan Johnson today as both storied minor leaguers finds new teams for the 2012 season.
Minor moves, but memorable names.
Hayhurst's 2011 season was marked by continued injury problems despite admirable pitching performances, so it came as little surprise when the club released him near the season's end -- a franchise as especially flush with pitching talent as the Rays' must operate with the greatest of efficiency or risk impeding the development of its younger players. That being said, Hayhurst had just missed a whole year with injuries and could not finish his first season back. Very few MLB teams would have kept him around.
Hayhurst is a special man, though. I had the delight of interviewing him back when he first signed with the club in 2011, and though he has made very little impact for MLB teams, his writing and person are very valuable to the game. Also, he nearly pitched a perfect game last year, and I was watching online. So that was really cool.
I’m okay with trading a chance at being famous, celebritized, and even well compensated for a chance at priceless experiences and life enrichment. I know most [won't] understand this, but the Big Leagues are not everything, at least not to me. They’re Big, and great, but they are just one part of a life that can be filled with an infinite number of wonderful experiences. I have a chance to chase down a few more of them, and, in my opinion, I’d be a fool not to take it.
I, for one, am impressed at Hayhurst's self awareness. Kudos to him for knowing that the Bigs do not have to his one and only dream. Heck, many of our dreams (writer's dreams) are to pen a best-selling book, and he's got one of those in his back pocket with a second one waiting to happen.
Well, I guess it is time to start learning more about yet another foreign baseball league.
UPDATE: I believe he will be playing for the Nettuno team. I don't speak Italian, so I'm not sure if they have live game feeds or replays just yet.
D-Jo Going South Side
Here's another name Rays fans should remember: Dan Johnson, pinch-hitting memory-maker.
The Great Pumpkin hit only two home runs all season in 2011, but both proved crucial and only further built his legend. His second homer of the season was That Homer, the two-out, two-strike, home run in Game 162 that kept the game alive and crushed the spirits of the Boston Red Sox. His first home run -- which preceded a trip to Triple-A Durham and a long, unpleasant season of re-proving himself -- came against his new team, the Chicago White Sox.
Johnson's choice to sign with the White Sox seems curious. With the Rays, he appeared to have a much better shot at reaching the MLB club, considering he opted out of his contract well before the team signed DH Luke Scott or 1B Carlos Pena. Now he joins the Sox on a minor league contract that puts him behind All-Stars DH Adam Dunn and 1B Paul Konerko.
Maybe he's betting Dunn will continue to struggle, opening some playing time? Or perhaps that the team will look to trade Konerko near the deadline? Maybe he just wants to play against the Rays' Triple-A team? I dunno.
All I can say is: Good luck, Dan Johnson! I am rooting for you!