PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — One team’s red flag is another’s chance. In this case, the Baltimore Orioles’ loss could be the Tampa Bay Rays’ reward.
Closer Grant Balfour, 36, had a strange offseason, one that zigged when he expected a zag. He appeared bound for Camden Yards after signing a two-year, $15 million contract in December — his would-be new home after spending each season since 2011 with the Oakland Athletics.
But his future in Charm City was scratched after a failed physical, reportedly because of wrist and knee concerns. The 2013 All-Star, who played for the Rays from 2007 to 2010, found a familiar landing spot when Tampa Bay offered him a chance to slide into a role vacated by Fernando Rodney for $12 million over two years.
Occasionally, FOX Sports Florida will catch up with new faces in the Rays clubhouse during spring training. Here’s a closer look at Balfour …
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: What are your goals for this year?
BALFOUR: My goals aren’t usually numbers. I kind of simplify the game. I’m not going to put pressure on myself by setting number goals. I’m just telling myself, ‘Did you throw each individual pitch (well)?’ … Make a good pitch — strike one, get ahead, and those type of goals. The smaller things, I think, when you look back on it at the end of the year, you see the bigger picture. But obviously, as a team, just going out there and giving everything you’ve got every day to help this team win. You definitely learn that — if you’re just going out to play to win every day, you’re probably going to get the best out of yourself as opposed to worrying about individual stats. Some days you might have to sacrifice something to help your team win, so it’s about winning on every given day. And playing on teams that haven’t won and playing on a lot of teams that have won, the seasons are much more enjoyable when you’re winning. So the goal is to go out and win every night. We’re trying to win every game. We’re not going to win every game. No one has done it yet. We’re going to try. But we’ve got to go in every night and think, ‘Two out of three (games)’ or ‘three out of three — let’s sweep this series.’ … Obviously, the main goal is to win a ring. We got to the World Series in 2008. I’d like to go a step further. I’d like to retire from this game and say I’ve got a ring. An American League ring is nice, but I want the big one.
FSF: How hard was it to find a landing spot after the failed physical with the Orioles?
BALFOUR: There were plenty of other teams out there that were interested. I had a lot of offers on the table. Obviously, my choice was to come here. I live here now (in Clearwater, Fla), and just being here in the past and having the relationship that I have with this organization, they have always been great to me. In return, I try to give them everything that I’ve got. I think there was a reciprocal (interest) there. It works out well for both. Now, I’m just looking forward to the upcoming seasons.
FSF: What do you learn from the Orioles experience?
BALFOUR: I don’t want to sit here and say things. I’m not going to take a stab at anyone in the back. It was frustrating, because I know how long I’ve played and how hard I’ve worked. It’s one of those things where it will sort itself out. From here on out, I’m a Ray. It has worked out great for me.
FSF: Will you be motivated because of what happened to you?
BALFOUR: That’s the thing that’s kind of annoying. I feel like over the past six years I’ve shown people what I can do. I didn’t feel like I had to show someone what I can do. I’m always motivated, because I’m motivated to win and do well every year. It will definitely give me a little fire, no doubt. But it’s one of those things where I don’t have to do too much. I’ve learned to keep doing what I’m doing every year and not put too much pressure on myself to do too much. I want to be better every year — I want to get better every year — I try to do whatever I can. But staying consistent in this game, and where I’ve been, I can walk away at the end of the year and be very happy with what I’ve done over the years. If I can continue to do that, then I think I’m going to help out the team a lot. That’s what I’m here to do.
FSF: What advice would you give to new arrivals about fitting in with the Rays?
BALFOUR: I think these guys help you. Just the guys in general, just the way the clubhouse is — they make it easy, they make it comfortable for you to fit in. So I don’t think you’ve got to try to be anyone you don’t have to be. Just be yourself, and these guys will take you in like a family. They do a good job of that. There’s no real hot-head guys. There’s nothing like that going on in here. Everyone plays as a team, and I think that’s why they’ve had so much success.
FSF: You said during your introductory news conference you didn’t want to leave the first time. Why does this place have that effect on players?
BALFOUR: You play in a spot for several years, and that’s the mentality. You feel comfortable — you being around the guys and the people, and you realize that it is a good organization. You hear other things outside baseball, and you realize it is a good place to play. You’ve got a great manager that makes him a guy you want to go out there and play for. There’s a lot to be said for that. That’s just the way guys feel. You get a little bit attached to that.
FSF: Any prediction for this team?
BALFOUR: I make goals. I don’t make predictions. Our goal is to win the World Series — that’s why we’re here. Every team is the same way. I’m not going to make any predictions. I don’t like to do that. That’s not how I work. But I definitely have goals, and that’s to go all the way. I say it every year, and I try to do everything I can to help the team win to get there.