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The most random Rays Opening Day starters in franchise history

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From players never heard from again, to others not known for their Rays careers

Tampa Bay Devil Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Opening Day represents a beginning for each team. But it also represents an end point - the end of the offseason, which has usually included a swirl of trades, signings, and spring training tryouts for prospects and nonroster invitees. That offseason churn produces an Opening Day roster, which includes a group of players who may (or may not) end up shaping the coming season.

When we think of Opening Days we may remember the star turns of talented players. The Carlos Peña home run, the Denard Span triple.

Over the course of 23 years, however, the Rays have fielded some Opening Day rosters that have a few players that may have you thinking “how did that guy get here?” Below please find our Rays all time obscure/strange/head-scratching/”he played for the Rays?” Opening Day lineup.

Catcher

Hank Conger, 2016

Conger was a former first round draft pick and one of baseball’s top prospects for a few years. However, prospects will break your heart and Conger was no exception; although he did have two solid campaigns he was well beyond those when he got to the Rays as a December 2015 waiver claim.

Once Spring Training ended, the Rays made the not so surprising decision to release Rene Rivera and roll with Hank Conger and Curt Casali as their starting catchers, with Conger getting the nod for Opening Day. Conger collected a walk and a single in four trips to the plate.

He struggled with the Rays and split the season between Tampa and Durham before being granted free agency in October. That would be Conger’s last time in the Majors and he has since joined the KBO as a coach with the Lotte Giants.

First Base

Tino Martinez, 2004

Tino Martinez, a 16 year veteran, had cemented himself in New York Yankee lore with postseason heroics during his excellent tenure in pinstripes. After his tenure in the Bronx and a stop with St Louis, he returned home to his home of Tampa Bay to play one season with the Rays.

He was acquired in December with enviable position of replacing Travis Lee as the team’s starting first baseman.

Martinez had an incredible debut with the Devil Rays as they took on his former Yankee mates in a season that started in Tokyo. Martinez walked and recorded three hits, including a homerun and a double, in four trips to the plate.

Over the course of the year, Martinez exceeded expectations as he belted 23 homeruns and hit .262/.362/.461 over 138 games played. He would rejoin the Yankees in 2005 for the final year of his big league career. Since retiring, Martinez has still been around the game of baseball, occasionally appearing in the broadcast booth for the Yankees and also spent some ill-fated time as the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins in 2013.

Second Base

Elliot Johnson, 2012

After years of scrapping and gritting his way through the system, Elliot Johnson finally managed to finagle his way into the Rays Opening Day lineup in 2012.

Signed a decade prior as an undrafted free agent in 2002, Johnson began his slow ascent through the Rays system. He wasn’t a masher by any mean, but did all that was asked of him, including playing any position. This led to him eventually making his big league debut in 2008 for a brief seven game stint. He wouldn’t return until 2011, when he played in 70 games for the eventual Wild Card winning Rays.

However, many might not have noticed Johnson in the lineup (he went 0-3 by the way), because he had the dubious honor of following Carlos Pena in the starting lineup, who had a very memorable performance to say the least.

Johnson would play in 123 games for the Rays in 2012 and did Elliot Johnson things as he played all over the diamond. He would eventually be included in the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers. Since retiring from baseball, Elliot Johnson, who completed his college degree while playing, has been working in the private sector.

Third Base

Herbert Perry, 2000

The offseason ramp up to Spring Training in 2000 was all about The Hit Show. The Rays had acquired two of the top stars of the past decade, sluggers, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla, to join the already formidable duo of Fred McGriff and Jose Canseco. However, Castilla pulled a ribcage muscle during Spring Training and was not ready to start the season.

In stepped Herbert Perry.

Perry had been around since being drafted by Cleveland in 1991 the second round. He made his debut in 1994 and enjoyed some success in 1995. However, injuries would plague him the following seasons and he eventually landed on the Devil Rays during the expansion draft. He wouldn’t play a game in the Majors for them until 1999 and played exactly at replacement level.

But Castilla’s injury made replacement level Herbert Perry the team’s new starting third baseman...for seven games anyway.

The best was yet to come for Perry. After being claimed by the White Sox, he accrued 2.9 fWAR over 109 games. He would later be picked up by the Texas Rangers for whom he slugged 22 homeruns during the 2002 season. He finished his playing career with the Rangers in 2004.

Shortstop

Felix Martinez, 2001

Martinez, who became the Devil Rays starting shortstop in 2000, was a defensive wizard. Well, he had to be. For the 2000 Devil Rays, he hit .214/.305/.298 over 353 plate appearances (but somehow accrued 1.4 fWAR!), but that defense was strong enough to earn him another go at that position.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays Felix Martinez (top) leaps ov
Felix Martinez can also fly. I’m assuming the Devil Rays hoped his wizardry would translate to more offense.
Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images

Opening Day, Martinez had a double in four trips to the plate. He would eventually lose his starting job to Chris Gomez. The Devil Rays released Martinez the following spring and he would journey around the minors for the next few years, never returning to the big leagues.

Left Field

Paul Sorrento, 1999

Prior to joining the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998, Paul Sorrento had the majority of his playing career as a first baseman. Indeed, he was the prototypical offensively minded first baseman. But when you’re on a team with Fred McGriff and Jose Canseco, you’re going to be forced to leave your comfort zone. On Opening Day in 1999, after playing in just 18 games in the outfield in 1998, Sorrento started in left field for the Devil Rays and went hitless in three trips to the plate.

The 1999 season would prove to be the last of Sorrento’s 11 season big league career. He struggled for most of it, hitting .235/.351/.401 with 11 HR over 348 plate appearances. However, during that season, Sorrento would mark his name in the record books as he launched what at the time was the longest homerun in history at the Ballpark in Arlington. His home run ball was measured at 491 feet.

Sorrento retired following a minor league season in 2000 and didn’t return to baseball until 2012, when he became a coach within the Angels system.

Center Field

Chris Singleton, 2005/Elijah Dukes 2007

On the eve of Opening Day in 2005, MLB announced its first-ever performance enhancing drug (PED) suspension, and the suspended player happened to be the Rays starting center fielder Alex Sanchez.

That opened the door for 32-year old Chris Singleton; he went 1-4 on the day, with his hit being the team’s first knock of the season. His Devil Rays career would last just 28 games, before he was designated for assignment in May.

2005 would be the final year of Singleton’s playing career. After a brief broadcasting tenure with the Chicago White Sox, Singleton has been with ESPN since 2008 as an MLB analyst.


Elijah Dukes’ inclusion here is more sad than amusing. He came through the system as a top prospect and his athletic talent was easy to see. But his short temper and problematic interactions with teammates, plus his frequent legal difficulties off the field, kept him from realizing his potential.

However, in 2007 he was still seen as the centerfielder of the future and he got the Opening Day start. He rewarded the team by homering in his first career plate appearance.

He would continue his tumultuous ways after leaving the Rays. Dukes managed to produce 2.7 fWAR over just 81 games for Washington in 2008. During his time with the Nationals, the team even employed a former police officer to basically serve as the bodyguard of anyone who came into contact with Dukes. Despite his success in 2008, Dukes would be out of affiliated baseball by the end of 2009.

Right Field

Damon Hollins, 2006

In the late 90’s, Hollins was among the top prospects in baseball, an exciting outfielder to watch coming up to a very talented Atlanta Braves team. Hollins made his big league debut in 1998, but played in just three games for Atlanta before getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who later released him. The ensuing years were an odyssey of minor league cities, with a return to the majors in 2004.

In 2005, the Devil Rays picked up Hollins and he proceeded to be one of the best hitters in all of baseball for the month of May. After May, he had an OPS of .637, but that didn’t stop Tampa Bay from bringing him back for the 2006 season.

After going 0-3 on Opening Day in 2006, Hollins played in 121 games in 2006 for Tampa Bay and became a free agent following the season. He wouldn’t return to the big leagues again, at least as a player. He has since taken on a coaching role, having spent the past 11 years with the Kansas City Royals organization. Currently, Hollins holds the role of the Royals first base coach.

Designated Hitter

Rob Refsnyder, 2018

At one time, Refsnyder was among the top prospects in the New York Yankees system. He had a brief but strong debut in 2016, but then the struggles came and he split the following two seasons between the big leagues and minors. At the end of the 2017 season, he had a career 65 wRC+ in the big leagues.

So naturally the Rays picked him up at the end of Spring Training in 2018 and sharpie’d him in as their Opening Day designated hitter.

At the time, the Rays needed a rightie bat to hit against left-handed pitching; the Rays hoped Refsnyder’s former prospect pedigree would break through. Unfortunately, it didn’t as he hit .167 over 40 games and would eventually be designated for assignment.

Refsynder last played in the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2020 and was in camp with the Minnesota Twins this Spring before being assigned to their alternate training site.

Starting Pitcher

Steve Trachsel, 2000

Steve Trachsel was a fantastic pitcher in the 1990s. Facing the performance-enhanced behemoths of the decade, Trachsel pitched in six full seasons for the Cubs and averaged 187 innings pitched and of 1.6 fWAR per year.

Heading into the 2000 season, the Devil Rays were going all in on adding solid veterans of the past decade, and Trachsel was among them. During Spring Training, Trachsel emerged as the team’s top starter with Wilson Alvarez and Guzman starting the year on the Injured List, so he got the Opening Day honors. And he dominated.

Trachsel delivered seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits and collecting seven strikeouts in a 7-0 victory to kick off the Hit Show era.

He delivered a solid performance across the season, which made him a perfect trade deadline target for a competing team. He was sent to Toronto for Brent Abernathy.

Trachsel’s career would continue on for nearly another decade as he pitched with the Baltimore Orioles during the 2008 season.