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It's Deja Vu All Over Again for Rays, DiFelice

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The Tampa Bay Rays agreed to party like it's 1999 again on Sunday, as they agreed to terms with original Devil Rays backup catcher Mike DiFelice on a minor league contract. DiFelice was the 20th pick in the 1997 expansion draft by the Rays from the St. Louis Cardinals, and he backed up starting catcher John Flaherty for the first three and a half seasons in team history. His best season with the Rays by far came in 1999, when he hit .307/.346/.469 over 179 ABs. He was traded away during the 2001 season along with Albie Lopez to Arizona in a cost-cutting move that brought Jason Conti and Nick Bierbrodt to Tampa Bay.

DiFelice does carry around a little bit of character baggage with him, however. Just a few weeks after the trade to Arizona, he was arrested in Pittsburgh on range of charges stemming from a nightclub incident in the early morning hours. DiFelice was ultimately charged with two counts of simple assault, and one count each of indecent assault, recklessly endangering another person, and disorderly conduct. The account of what led to the charges was pretty bad:

A 28-year-old woman told police that DiFelice grabbed her buttocks after he began rubbing her arm and she told him to stop. A 35-year-old woman who had intervened told police DiFelice burned her buttocks with a cigarette lighter. DiFelice then punched the younger woman in the face when she tried to help the other woman, police said. DiFelice broke away from club security personnel and again attacked the younger woman before he was removed from the club, police said.
DiFelice was also suspended for two games later that same day by Major League Baseball for an incident one week prior involving the Pirates' Kevin Young. All charges against DiFelice were eventually dropped later that year after he reached out-of-court settlements with two of his accusers. In declaring a resolution to the situation, DiFelice's attorney reportedly said "Everybody is happy and satisfied."

The veteran backstop has since bounced around the majors with several organizations, including the last three seasons with the New York Mets. The 38 year old DiFelice has a career line of .235/.287/.355 in 1538 major league at bats. It is unclear exactly where the Rays expect DiFelice to fit in with the present roster, although he would seem to have a shot at making the major league roster in a "mentoring" role for starter Dioner Navarro. That would put the Rays in between rock and a hard place with Shawn Riggans, who has already dominated the Triple A level as a hitter. Riggans' efforts to cement a spot in the major leagues were derailed by injuries last year.

Update: From the St. Petersburg Times print edition:

Difelice had offers with the Mets and other teams but said the opportunity for a major-league job as well as the chance to return to the Rays and play near his Palm Harbor home led him to take their offer. "There were a lot of factors," he said. "I wanted the opportunity to compete."