PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Jayson Nix, once a foe, enjoys his new perspective.
The 31-year-old utility man is no stranger to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, though his vantage point has changed since January. The six-year veteran appeared in 161 games the past two seasons with the New York Yankees. And throughout the 2011 campaign, he played in 46 contests with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Nix was signed to a minor league contract with a spring training invite to provide infield versatility for manager Joe Maddon. Last year, he appeared at shortstop (48 games), third base (41) and second base (four). He’s a career .218 hitter with 37 home runs.
Occasionally, FOX Sports Florida will catch up with new faces in the Rays clubhouse during spring training. Here’s a closer look at Nix:
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: How would you describe your transition?
NIX: It has been good. It’s a great group of guys, and they’ve all been very welcoming. It has been fun so far.
FSF: What was your impression of the Rays when you played against them with the Blue Jays and Yankees?
NIX: Definitely from afar — just the way Joe (Maddon) is — it’s very apparent that he thinks outside the box. Just in one game, you can see that. You never know for sure until you’re somewhere (close), but it’s pretty obvious from the other side that he does some unorthodox-type things. So it’s nice to be here and see it first hand.
FSF:When you’re a Rays opponent, how frustrating is it to face someone who thinks differently like that?
NIX: Yeah, it has always been a team that — whenever you’re playing them — you know you have your hands full, because you know they’re going to try to do everything they can to gain any kind of little advantage throughout the game. It’s obvious what they do is very research (intensive). They do their homework, and it works a lot. So yeah, it can be frustrating as an opponent.
FSF:Since being here, what have you learned about the Rays’ approach that you couldn’t see from afar when facing them?
NIX: I just learned the way Joe goes about it — how he gets to those points of doing things that are unorthodox. You’re not just doing them for the sake of being unorthodox. He’s doing them as a means to try to gain any little advantage he can. He’s not trying to just fall in line and do things the way they have been done 100 years in this game. He thinks outside the box. He tries to find any one little advantage, and it’s very refreshing to see. This game is a game of great history, and a lot of people kind of fall in line with that — which is great. I’m an old-school guy, and I like all that stuff. But at the same time, just because something has been done for the last 100 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. So it’s nice to see his approach and his way of doing things.
FSF:You’re a minor league signee with a spring training invite. How do you approach this situation?
NIX: I just come in here and do my job and do everything I can to prepare myself to be ready to play. It’s a situation I’ve been in my whole career, so I know how to handle it. I’ll just come here and try to get better every day and work on things I think I we need to work on and try to improve every day and just try to play my best.
FSF: Did you have any discussions with Joe when you first arrived about his visions or expectations for you?
NIX: I talked to him before I signed once, and we talked at the beginning of camp. He kind of gave me a feel for what he likes about me, how he would like to use me — that type of thing. I have a pretty good idea.
FSF:You’ve had a number of stops in your career: the Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Blue Jays and Yankees. What’s the one piece of advice that has been the most formative in making you the player you have become?
NIX: I can’t say there’s one thing. Each season you play, there’s so much to learn and gain and each year I’ve played, I feel like I’ve gained and learned more every year I’ve played — whether that’s having good years or having really tough years. If there’s one constant, each year I feel I’ve learned a whole lot.
FSF:Now that you’re a veteran, what would you say if you could go back and offer advice to your rookie self?
NIX: I would just say, ‘Don’t look too far ahead.’ Really keep it as simple as you can and kind of have a confidence that the work that you do will pay off, it’s going to pay off. Just get lost in that work and trust it.
FSF:Recently, Logan Forsythe spoke about what he has gained from the returning Rays infielders, all AL Gold Glove Award finalists from last year. You’re in a similar situation with your versatility. What have you picked up so far from them?
NIX: Any time you can pick up little things. Anybody that is at this level is very good. … The difference is very small — it’s just not that big, so I’m just trying to pick up little things. I watch to see the little things that they do to prepare and work and (I) just try to pick up little things. I feel like I’ve been able to pick up some of those for the positive, and it also takes time being around guys, and over a period of time, you see how little things that they do translate into the games and make them good players. So I don’t try to look too hard. I just try to take in what I see, and I know over time I’ll walk out of the clubhouse, and I’ll pick up little things.
FSF: Along those lines, what goes into being a successful versatile player? How do you hone that craft?
NIX: I think it’s just hard work and creating good habits. To be able to be tough at different positions on any given notice, you have to put in the work before, and you have to have good habits at each position. At each position, you have to have different habits. It’s being able to wrap your mind around all those different things but also put in the work and know your body — when you’re at your position — is going to do what it needs to do. That’s kind of what I’ve learned the last few years — making sure I put in the time and the work at all those positions in my pre-work and knowing that I have good habits over there and that those will take over at all my positions.
FSF:How good do you think this team can be? In your short time here, what’s your impression of its potential?
NIX: On paper, it’s one of the best teams in baseball, for sure. We all know that that really doesn’t mean anything. This is a special group. The team could be very good. I have no doubt that everything they’ve got going on here is — with the nature of the guys, the team and camaraderie, all the way from Joe and all the way down — very good. It’s real interesting. It could be very good, but we’ve got to make it happen.