Tuesday was Not a Sonny Day
Tuesday morning was not a particularly “Sonny” day for me. Sure I knew that the cards were stacked high and solid against the Rays closet jokester and team trivia buff from possibly garnering an arbitration hearing, but I held a slim sliver of hope for the impossible. For this was the quiet prankster who emerged with a triumphant team-wide display during the relatively short Dale Thayer phenomenon, and who was instrumental in the “porno moustache” caper during a Florida Marlins series back in 2008. This player was as much a consistent part of the Rays team character during his tenure as Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
Here was a player who was so in-tune with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s quips and quirks that he was a covert Maddon Delta force commando with his comedic plays and daily transformations in 2010 of the figurine images on the right field wall. From the popular and comical road trip attire to team sponsored events and Season Ticket get-together, this player was all Tampa Bay, and I was glad to have known him. But that is just a small shovelful of the magic and outlandish things that made Andy Sonnanstine a team favorite.
Sure most of the people in Section 140 remember him as the Bullpen player who grabbed fists full of bubble gum and showered them with the sweet confection. Others knew him for his literal side, the one that could quote stats and Rays team trivia with more insight and more depth than the Rays own broadcast historians and fact-checkers. Sonny was a guy who with a glance could have you either laughing or knowing instinctively that you must have missed out on a special Rays moment.
Did you know he was the first of the post-2007 Rays to get a dog and make him a huge part of his off-the-field routine. Sonny was so into his “man’s best friend” that in 2011 he would travel almost 160 miles daily to the Rays Spring Training camp and then back home to his Gulfport abode to be with his canine (golden retriever) roommate “Murphy “. Maybe that was one of the reason I grew to like seeing Sonnanstine being a devoted dog dude myself.
The again my kinship with Sonny might have blossomed with his daily journey into his artistic side as he changed the Matt Garza and David Price figurine Fathead decal put up on the Right field corner back in 2010. Daily I would be transfixed the moment I entered Tropicana Field wondering what accessories, what facial or body transformations would await all of us in attendance. Even being sent down to Rookie Hudson Valley, Sonny found a willing accomplice in Randy Choate who put the finishing touches on his Price masterpiece while Sonny sat on the pine bench 1,300 miles away.
Sonny was the consummate “company man”, a person who Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey knew would do whatever was needed to secure an advantage. His biggest day of flexibility came via a Maddon line-up card malfunction (5/17/2009) against the Cleveland Indians. Sonny committed to the start, then picked up a bat and brought his own offensive pop to the game and his eventual victory. On that day Sonny became the first pitcher since Chicago White Sox starter Ken Brett (Sept. 23, 1976) to be listed on a game’s starting line-up card as a hitter.
He was a guy who was born in a pitcher’s body, but had the mindset and confidence of a power hitter. Some of the most entertaining Batting Practice events of this past seasons came on the days the Rays pitchers got into the cage and took their hacks. Sonny loved to hit and leaves the Rays with a lifetime .318 batting average. Sonny was such a frustrated hitter he took his past 2 Rays team individual photos in the Spring with a bat on his shoulder. Now that is a commitment to hitting.
Sonny leaves the Rays organization with fond memories. Take April 19, 2009 start is a great testament to the magic that can come from Sonnastine’s arm. He went to the mound opposite White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle and produced his first complete game, which included a 3-hit shutout. But there was an additional bit of essence that was all-Sonny on that day.
Sonny combined that night with Beuhrle and completed that contest in a remarkable 2 hours and 2 minutes, the shortest game in Tropicana Field history, plus Sonny faced only 29 batters and at one time retired 17-straight, both club records at the time. On June 18,2010 Sonny earned his first MLB save in an impressive way retired 3 batters while the tying run was anxiously awaiting a hit ball at third base. Ice water truly ran in his veins that night in that balmy contest against the Marlins.
Then in late 2010 Sonny became an author collaborating with MLBlogs.com’s own Tucker Eliot to produce the popular “Tampa Bay Rays IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” in paperback. Seems only natural the artistic flow of a writer would enter into the versatile Sonny persona since he did attend Kent State University with fellow MLB author and Rays teammate Dirk Hayhurst (Bullpen Gospels).
Some say the last nail was firmly struck in Sonny’s coffin when the Rays trade for fellow arbitration player RP Burke Badenhop from the Marlins on December 10th. Badenhop might not have the rubber band mentality of Sonnastine to go from starter-to reliever and back again without recourse, but his 58.5% ground ball rate peaked the Rays interest pushing Sonny firmly to the outside of the team circle of trust.
Sonny will truly be missed by the Rays Republic for many reasons. From his gum barrage, to his artistic impressions and clothing selections, Sonny has always been a disciple of the “Rays Way”, a consummate professional, and someone you never could turn you back on because of his spontaneous prankster mentality His antics and memorable moments will resonate within Tropicana Field for a lot of us for a long, long time. Viva la Sonny!