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Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer

Marc Topkin

Marc Topkin has covered baseball for the Times since 1987 — from the lengthy effort to secure a team, to the awarding of the Tampa Bay franchise in 1995, and through each of the Rays seasons starting in 1998. He has traveled throughout the United States with the team, as well as to Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan, and has covered All-Star Games and the World Series, as well as Super Bowls and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Phone: (727) 893-8801


Blog: The Heater

Twitter: @TBTimes_Rays

  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    "It was cool. It was very nice," Maddon said. "I appreciated it."

    But for a while, it looked like his current Cubs team — and specifically starter Mike Montgomery, a former Rays minor-leaguer at that — might provide an even more fitting souvenir representative of Maddon's tenure, no-hitting the Rays into the sixth inning. With Maddon at the helm, after all, the Rays were no-hit four times....

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Mike Montgomery (38) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings (15 hits, 11 runs, seven innings), so Tuesday was a reassuring rebound.

    Brad Miller's homer with one out in the sixth ended Mike Montgomery's unexpected no-hit bid, and gave him 61 hits for the season. That's the same as his number of walks. No player with 300 plate appearances has had as many walks as hits since Adam Dunn in 2011....

  3. Rays video tribute to ex-manager Joe Maddon upon return with Cubs


    Here is the Rays video tribute to former manager Joe Maddon, who returned to the Trop for the first time on Tuesday with his Cubs team:


  4. Joe Maddon on being back at Trop, Cash, a new stadium


    More to come later, but a couple of quick early highlights from former Rays manager Joe Maddon's return to the Trop with the Cubs:

    * He enjoyed the drive over from his Tampa home, chatted with parking lot guard Vinny Paolozzi and other stadium personnel and then headed past the Rays clubhouse that housed his office for nine years to the visiting clubhouse, where two inflated pink flamingo pool floaties (stocked with Bud Light) were waiting in his office. "It was very cool walking in,'' he said, noting he had been through a similar return going back to Anaheim with the Rays. "I was really looking forward to this when I saw it on the schedule. ... Eager to get back. It's good to get back.;;...

    Joe Maddon, right, speaks with Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey before Tuesday's game at Tropicana Field.
  5. For starters: Rays vs. Cubs in Joe Maddon's return to Trop


    Joe Maddon's return to the Trop will be the main story tonight, but there is still a baseball game to be played, between a Cubs team surging toward another division title with six straight wins and a Rays team struggling to keep alive a longshot bid for the second AL wildcard spot.

    RHP Chris Archer will be on the mound for the Rays, seeking to snap a three-game skid in which he has a 14.14 ERA, walking off the mound in the first inning of his Sept. 2 due to forearm tigthness and then having two rough and abbreviated outings.

    The Cubs are starting LHP Mike Montgomery, a forrmer Rays minor-leaguer who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen this season. He also has the notation of being the pitcher who got the final out of the 2016 World Series.

    Logan Morrison is back in the lineup for the Rays, as they are are starting five lefties against Montgomery.

    Here is the Rays lineup:...

    Joe Maddon returns to Tropicana Field tonight for the first time since leaving the Rays to become manager of the Cubs.
  6. For ex-Rays/now Cubs manager Joe Maddon, the legacy is in the jeans


    Joe Maddon has plenty of memories of his time at the Trop during nine years of managing the Rays. "Too many to count,'' he said.

    As he heads back under the tilted roof tonight for the first time since leaving the Rays at the end of the 2014 season and taking over the Cubs, he ticked off a couple that stand out the most:

    "Longo's catch of the foul pop at third that put us in the postseason for the first time, the Angels all wearing (the Maddon giveaway) glasses in front of their dugout before the start of our game, beating the Red Sox in Game 7 (of the 2008 ALCS).''

    Asked in Chicago the other day about going back to Tampa Bay and what he thinks he will be most remembered for, what his legacy from managing the Rays and Cubs so successfully will be, Maddon had an interesting answer:

    Jeans and casual shirts.


    "The only thing I've really focused on regarding my legacy to this point is that fact that I think I really altered dress codes,'' he said. "When I first came on board, everybody was always ... you go to these job interviews and they want to know what your dress code is going to be.

    "And I always thought that the dress code was one of the most absurd things ever invented in major-league baseball, because they would wear all these expensive suits in the hope of winning "because I wore an expensive suit.' And I never understood that. I never understood why it was so important to go from a clubhouse to a bus to a tarmac to a plane to a tarmac to a bus to a hotel lobby to your room and why it was so important to dress up."

    And Maddon was just getting started.

    He talked about ruining "a great pair of white jeans on a bus because the bus had grease underneath the seat" as a minor-league player.

    How dress codes are "crazy stuff that you do because you're attempting to ameliorate the mind of an older gentleman that was taught in a certain time frame that it was important to dress in a certain way to be within a group.''

    And that he does favor dress codes - actually uniforms - for students in parochial schools to avoid "cruel" competition based on what they are wearing.

    And as for the point of those themed dress up trips?

    "I'm poking fun a little bit,'' he said. "Team building, camaraderie. But part of it at that time was just poking fun at the entire method that you had to do this in order to win."

    And then he segued right into other favorite topics, how teams don't need to take batting practice every day and players shouldn't feel the need to be at the ballpark early.

    "The lack of batting practice, altering the work day prior to a game, even when I ran instructional leagues it was important to me to alter the method on a daily basis just so that the guys would not get mentally bored with the whole thing,'' he said.

    "If I learned one thing through economics class is two things: ubiquitous and the point of diminishing returns. Those are the two things I learned at Economics 101. You can't constantly repeat the same method and believe it's always going to be good. You have to alter things. The human spirit needs that. You need a window in your office. You just don't need concrete walls.

    "The other point would be showing up at the ballpark, what time. It's absurd "first one there, last one to leave." I think that is the most incredibly inane concept ever. Work smart. Just don't work. Those are the kind of things that I really wanted to eradicate."...

    "The only thing I've really focused on regarding my legacy to this point is that fact that I think I really altered dress codes,'' Joe Maddon said.
  7. Cubs bring some other ex-Rays to Trop such as Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist


    Joe Maddon's first trip back to the Trop is getting most of the headlines tonight, but there are several other familiar faces among the eight former Rays now wearing Cubs uniforms.

    Such as:

    * INF/OF Ben Zobrist. The two-time Rays MVP with the talented singer wife and too-cute kids is finishing strong after a slow start to his second season in Chicago, hitting .265 with a .350 OBP since the All-Star break. He remains valuable because of his versatility, starting 61 games at second, 25 in rightfield and nine in left, while also filling in at shortstop, and hitting in six different spots in the order.

    * Reliever Wade Davis. Traded to Kansas City with James Shields in the Dec. 2012 blockbuster for Wil Myers, Davis has turned into one of the top relievers in the game, a three-time All-Star. Acquired by the Cubs for this season, Davis is a perfect 31-for-31 in save situations, extending the franchise record with each successful outing. His last blown save was more than a year ago, Sept. 2, 2016, when he did so for Kansas City against Detroit.

    * Bench coach Dave Martinez. Passed over to succeed Maddon as the Rays wanted a "new voice" in hiring Kevin Cash, Martinez - who played for the Devil Rays and the was the Rays bench coach for seven seasons, plays an important role on Maddon's staff in Chicago.

    * Catcher Rene Rivera. Dropped by the Rays at tne end of spring training 2016 after spending 2015 as their primary catcher, Rivera spent most of the last two seasons with the struggling Mets, then caught a break when the Cubs claimed him on waivers in mid-August, hitting .343 in 15 games.

    The other former Rays are pitching coach Chris Bosio (same job with Rays in 2003), assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske (played for Rays in 2008), pitcher Mike Montgomery (played in Rays minor-league system 2013-14) and, of course, Maddon, who managed them to a 754-705 record and four playoff appearances in nine seasons from 2006-14....

    Two-time Rays MVP Ben Zobrist is finishing strong after a slow start to his second season in Chicago.
  8. Rays Evan Longoria, Kahwa Coffee brewing up help for charities


    Rays 3B Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay-based Kahwa coffee roasting company are teaming up for a new blend — aptly called Signature Series No. 3 — that will be sold with proceeds to benefit Hurricane Irma relief efforts and then local charities.

    The blend, sourced from three high-quality beans, was selected by Longoria and will be introduced Tuesday.

    Bags will be available at all 12 Tampa Bay Kahwa locations, at and at the Trop....

    Evan Longoria and Kahwa are teaming up for a new blend — aptly called Signature Series No. 3 — that will be sold with proceeds to benefit Hurricane Irma relief efforts and then local charities.
  9. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tickets: $44-532; available at Tropicana Field box office,; surcharge of up to $5 within five hours of game.

    Rays info: Toll-free 1-888-326-7297

    Probable pitchers

    Rays: RH Chris Archer (9-10, 4.06)

    CUBS: LH Mike Montgomery (6-8, 3.57)...

  10. Rays react to Joe Maddon's return to the Trop

    The Heater

    The Rays already faced Joe Maddon's Cubs in Chicago this year, but we asked players, staff and broadcasters who worked with him with the Rays what they'll be thinking seeing him back at the Trop on Tuesday:

    Matt Silverman, president of baseball operations:

    "It's trip down memory lane. It's hard to think about the Rays franchise without thinking about Joe. There are many wonderful moments together to recall and celebrate."...

    Matt Silverman, left, talks with manager Joe Maddon, right, during the Rays first full squad workout Sunday morning at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL, in 2013. (James Borchuck, Times)
  11. Joe Maddon: 'I'd be surprised' that people are still upset

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — He is looking forward to everything about it.

    Making the familiar drive from his Tampa home over the Gandy Bridge. Pulling into the parking lot (though not getting nearly as good of a spot). Strolling into the dome he called home for nine years. Talking to dozens of stadium workers, Rays employees and others he hasn't seen for years.

    Then, eventually, walking on to the field and looking first toward the roof where the banners hang as symbols of his success in leading the Rays to four playoff appearances over a six-year period that sure seems a long time ago....

    Then-Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon looks on from the dugout at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
  12. Joe Maddon returns: What he stirs in Rays fans

    The Heater

    We asked what you'd think of seeing former Rays manager Joe Maddon back at the Trop for the first time as his Cubs play the Rays on Tuesday and Wednesday, and received a wide range of responses. Here is a sampling, some edited for clarity:

    Author of Tampa Bay's greatest sports achievement

    Joe Maddon back at The Trop (aka Pit) should be completely celebratory and nostalgic. Forget the way his tenure ended. I will be applauding the success he brought to what was a pathetic franchise. The Rays reaching the World Series two seasons after losing 101 games in Maddon's first season was as improbable as 98. Forget the Bucs and Bolts titles. The Rays' run to the 2008 World Series is the greatest Tampa Bay pro sports achievement....

    Joe Maddon returns to Tropicana Field for the first time as an opposing manager when the Cubs begin a series against the Rays on Sept. 19, 2017.
  13. Alex Cobb not ready to contemplate likely end to Rays career

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb isn't ready to look ahead to the past just yet.

    Despite what he said to the cameras, Cobb was well aware that Saturday's start against the Red Sox most likely would be his last at the Trop in a Rays uniform.

    With two weeks still to play before the end of his final season before becoming a free agent and heading off for a big payday elsewhere, Cobb maintained it was too soon to start thinking of goodbyes....

    Alex Cobb’s probable last start at the Trop as a Ray ends in a frustrating loss.
  14. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Red Sox game

    The Heater

    One pitch not put in play usually doesn't change a game, but the Rays felt it did when Alex Cobb's 2-2 fastball to Mookie Betts was called a ball (especially since it charted over the plate). Betts followed with an RBI single, then scored, a two-run swing.

    Pitching and fielding have disappointed at times, but inconsistency from the offense has been a fatal flaw. Instead of battling down the stretch, the bats have disappeared again with 19 runs in their past eight games, hitting .091 (5-for-55) with runners in scoring position....

  15. Rays Tales: Evaluating Rays' timing on Zobrist, Crawford, Price decisions

    The Heater

    Consider this old friends week for the Rays.

    David Price is at the Trop again today with the Red Sox, a pack of eight familiar looking current Cubs led by former manager Joe Maddon and Ben Zobrist are rolling into town on Tuesday, and Tim Beckham will be waiting Thursday when they get to Baltimore.

    You can figure on plenty of hugs, handshakes (or fist bumps in Maddon's case) and lots of memories shared....

    World Series MVP Ben Zobrist speaks to the crowd during the Chicago Cubs victory celebration in Grant Park on November 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) 680567173