Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure
Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.
In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.
There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?
Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.
His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.
Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.
Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.
More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.
We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970′s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.
During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.
Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.
Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.
The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.
But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.
The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.
Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.
Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.
Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.