Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Farewell to a foot soldier

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays unceremoniously said goodbye to one of the best guys in all of baseball Monday when manager Joe Maddon informed bench coach Bill Evers that his services weren’t needed next season.

Evers had been with the team since October 1995, serving the first 10 years as a minor league manager then the last two as Maddon’s bench coach.

The white-haired grandfatherly Evers had as much respect among the players as a coach could get, especially from those who played for him at Triple-A Durham.

Former Ray Aubrey Huff always called Evers “Skip,” and Huff was deeply moved when his walk-off home run to beat the Marlins in 2006 came with Evers as the acting manager that night. The win went on Maddon’s record, but the players knew it belonged to Evers.

He is a baseball lifer, a foot soldier in the game.

You would see him in spring training after a game talking to some player destined for another year in the minor leagues. Their conversation would end with Evers asking the player if he learned something that day, and when the player nodded yes, Evers would say, “See? You’re a better ballplayer today than you were yesterday. Let’s see if we can make you a better ballplayer tomorrow than you are today.”

Then he’d give the player a wink, pat him on the back and move on, leaving the kid feeling better about himself.

Baseball thrives on coaches like that.

It’s hard to think the Rays can possibly be better off without Evers in their organization.

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