Before I joined Tampa Bay seven years ago, what I thought of the then-Devil Rays was that all your team needed to do was to play hard for nine innings and not quit. Your club knew that they didn't have a very good bullpen, so if you could do that and get to around the fifth inning, you could get out ahead and win the game. That is what I thought whenever I saw them play.
Then, when I got here in 2006, it was sort of like that initially. Things started to change when Joe Maddon came on board as manager. He eventually put his foot down, and you saw an adjustment starting to take shape. It was now about playing hard for nine innings. You knew that if you did that, you had a better chance to win some more games.
It sounds pretty simple, but we learned that if you competed every pitch and hung in there, you can win no matter what. It has been cool to do that against teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox when it comes to their talent and their payrolls. It changed when our mindset changed.
I came from the Royals, and at that time, they were going through a lot of changes. When I came here, Tampa, too, was going through a lot of changes. My initial thought was that I would only be with teams that were making changes all the time and trying to figure it out. But, luckily, we had a pretty quick turnaround, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. I have experienced a lot here over the years, and it has really enhanced my career. A lot has changed as it relates to this organization.
One of the biggest changes was the hiring of Joe. He was hired my first year here, and that first year I really saw him sort of sit back and take notes. In 2007, he started talking a little bit more, but still he was watching us play. Then, in 2008, he was really hands-on. He had a vision, and he had thoughts as to how things should be and he was pretty much right on a lot of it.
That was the year we won for the first time and, while we did not win it, we did go to the World Series. Suddenly, it was a crazy turnaround for the organization.
From 2006, only three of my teammates are still with the team -- James Shields, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist. James, Ben and I all broke in during the '06 season, and B.J. entered that year with a little big league experience.
Even going back to that time, James was the poster boy for how to work hard. I had come from the Royals, and, I do not mean any disrespect to that organization, but I had not been taught that part of the game, that part of the everyday grind. Here, James would call players out, but call them out in a good way when guys were not working as hard as they could or not fulfilling their role. If something could be fixed, he would point it out. He would help solve the problem as part of their career and that would, in turn, lead to wins. The key is not to try to do too much and just stick to your role.
Ben is another guy who has had a lot of success over the years. I saw him come in and he has transitioned. He was a tentative ballplayer, and now, you see how aggressive he is today. It has been cool to see him grow up these past few years. It has been fun to watch him mold his game into the player he is today. He is a really good hitter who can play pretty much anywhere on the field. He can do it all.
B.J. has a lot of talent. He has saved a lot of games for us over the years, and he was a big reason we went so deep in the playoffs, all the way to the World Series. His mentality and his approach are great. He is also a lot of fun. He is a great clubhouse guy.
I hope the four of us can continue to stick together for a long time, and I think it is pretty cool to, basically, be associated with one franchise as it relates to my career, so far. That is something I have always dreamed of. I have always wanted to be a part of something that is going in the right direction. It has been a successful time, and I have learned so much from it, both on the field and off the field.
Veteran left-handed reliever J.P. Howell pitched in 15 games for the Royals in 2005 and has pitched for Tampa Bay since the Rays acquired him during the 2006 season. In 2009, he won a career-high seven games and saved 17 contests.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.