It’s a Numbers Game
With the Tampa Bay Rays adding two new players to their roster in the last 24 hours, there has been a hustle and bustle of conversation and negotiations behind the scenes in and around the clubhouse for those two guys to secure their “favorite” numbers that have graced their uniforms throughout their careers. Newbie to the team, catcher Gregg Zaun has always worn the number “9″ his entire career and sees it as the ultimate good luck charm to him. The only problem is that the Rays uniform number “9″ was previously assigned to back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is on the DL down in Durham right now.
New Rays reliever Russ Springer also had the same situation when he arrived in Seattle last night for his first game in a Rays uniform. For the night he would be wearing number “37″ until the Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland could do a fast sewing and manipulation of the “36″ jersey in time for the Sunday finale at Safeco Field. In that contest, Springer would be sporting the comfortable “36″ he has worn for many years. But that number had been picked out by fellow Bullpen member Randy Choate and he did offer to surrender the number to Springer in time for the last game of the series.
Athletes do feel a wild kinship to their numbers. I know I always worn a form of the two numerals “1″ or “3″ throughout my playing days. I even got lucky enough in High School and College to wear “13″ and “31″ so I had a double whammy of good luck. And to say athletes are not superstitious is like saying Paula Deen loves margarine on her food. Seriously, I felt a power mentally within me when I had my number on my back. It was an inner strength I could not describe, it was my version of the Superman cape.
The number’s on a players uniform are as much a part to a players psyche and identity as their names to the fans. The numbers on their back mean so much to some players that they do not seem to play like themselves without their special numbers. So was it any wonder that newly minted Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson once paid $ 25,000 to get his beloved “24″ on his back during one of his many team changes in his career.
And changing your number can also change the way the fans see a player. When pitcher Roger Clemens came back, didn’t it seem a bit odd to see him in a “21″ jersey instead of the traditionaL “22″ that he wore during his glory days. And when Michael Jordan put on that “45″ jersey during his return to the courts, did he not look anything like the “23″ we grew to love for all those years in Chi-town.
Numbers can universally imprint a player into our minds and memories. I look at Carl Crawford’s early years with the Rays wearing the number “8″ years,before he switched to “13″. It was like a night and day comparision as he began to sprint out from under a shadow the minutehe put number “13″ on his back. Now you know him by his number from a distance and do not have to look at the name blazoned across his shoulders.
I remember an article by ESPN columnist Jim Caple back a few years ago where he remembers a “Seinfeld” episode that showed how a players number can transform into our daily lives and about how synonymous a player and their numbers can become to us ?
” Consider the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza revealed to his fiancé Susan that he planned to name their first child Seven. “Seven Costanza?” Susan replied, “Are you serious?”
Mickeymantle.com We all know the poor George did not stand a chance in that arument and went down on flames. But those numbers do something within us. Those simple cloth numbers. I know as a player I did not want the secondary numbers like “18″ or “11″, I wanted that number where I felt safety within, and secure going to battle wearing on my back.That’s right, to me either number “13″ or “31″ held the powers of the universe plain and simple.
We know that a majority of the baseball world is content with number under 70, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon has worn the number “70″ for years and we can not visual;ize him wearing anything else on his back. But the numbers game goes beyond just numbers at times. Most good pitchers would not even consider wearing a single digit number on their backs. But it can go further than that in the realms of good and bad. A number can end up defining a player just by sight.
So as the Rays take the field today at 4 pm in Seattle, think about it for a minute. Could you imagine Evan Longoria not wearing his customary “3″, or even Rays starter Scott Kazmir not wearing number “19″ If those number symbolize who they are to you, then you get the idea of this blog. Mention to a Yankee fan the number “4″ and you get Lou Gehrig. Mention “24″ to a San Francisco Giants fan and you get Willy Mays.
Mlb.com The number becomes just as important as what they do on the field or mound. For that number will always symbolize who they are as a player, and what they did while wearing that number. So, you got to wonder, what did Choate and Riggans get for exchanging their jersey numbers with the Rays two veterans. Well, neither are saying right now, but what they did is give their new teammates a sense of comfort and security on their first day on the job.