[This article was written by Nick Hanson, one of our Charlotte Stone Crabs, GCL Rays, and Extended Spring Training correspondents.]
As Elvin Perez made the final out, the Rays wrapped up their extended spring training regimen in Port Charlotte and headed off to their short-season clubs. The Rays who had to attend extended spring were forced to endure two and a half months in hell-like conditions. Playing exhibition games in the afternoon after practicing all morning, the game temperatures were often in the low-to-mid 90s. With usually no fans attending their games or workouts, the players had to work hard to keep their spirits high. Many of the Rays in extended spring training were in their first year of professional baseball, and some were in their first months of living in the United States.
The extended spring training period is not designed to be fun for the players or to entertain fans. All home games were played on the backfields of the Charlotte Sports Park. The games are not at all competitive, and are mostly designed to be instructional to the players. Often, games were extended to get extra at-bats or time on the mound for pitchers. Players could be subbed in and out as coaches see fit. Pitchers who were getting lit up sometimes get their inning ended early before the damage could get severe.
Some players were in their second or third year of experiencing the extended spring training program. Catchers Mark Thomas and Tyler Hauschild, who spent last season playing for Hudson Valley after extended spring training, were again back in extended and will likely both play their second year for Hudson Valley. Others were in their first year of extended spring training. Several players from the Rays farm teams in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela were brought in to stock up the Princeton and Gulf Coast League rosters. Many of the players spend almost all of their day at either the ball field or in their hotel room, not able to drive. The players also receive English lessons and other information about professional baseball in the United States. Some of the names on the Princeton/Gulf Coast rosters might be unfamiliar to even the most dedicated Rays prospect fans.
The players now head off to either Hudson Valley, New York; Princeton, West Virginia; or will stay in Port Charlotte to play for the Gulf Coast League Rays or continue to rehabilitate injuries in Charlotte.