Rays cut hair to support children with cancer

PORT CHARLOTTE. Fla. — Getting cut in spring training

was never anything like this.

Before a crowd of smiling and cheering spectators, the Tampa Bay Rays roster

got trimmed in a most unusual fashion Thursday morning — with the hair of

players, coaches, staff and manager Joe Maddon cascading onto the Charlotte

Sports Park boardwalk.

Donning yellow T-shirts with the message “Fortune Favors The Bald,” the

Rays parted with their locks in a symbolic show of support for children batting

cancer — with all proceeds benefitting the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the

Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric and Blood Disorders Cancer Center at All

Children’s Hospital.

Thirty-seven uniformed Rays and another 34 members of the front office took

their seats in a handful of barber chairs lining the boardwalk and gladly did

their part to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Leading the way

was Maddon, whose wavy, auburn-dyed hair was among the first to be shorn.

Team barber Wilbur Bonilla calmly mowed through Maddon’s mop — a frequent topic

of discussion and target of ribbing over the past few months — until only a

layer of close-cropped white hair covered his head.

“That’s a nice melon,” quipped pitching ace James Shields, moments before

saying goodbye to much of his thick, curly brown hair.

Maddon even poked a little fun at his recent hairstyle.

“All this other hair shenanigans has been going on long enough,” he said as

Bonilla ran electric clippers over his scalp.

Fans quickly gave Maddon the thumbs up when he displayed his clean-cut look,

more in line with the familiar flat-top look he sported before growing his hair

out last year.

His kidding aside, the two-time AL manager of the Year has enthusiastically

embraced the head-shaving mission ever since the idea was broached to him over

the winter by Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier.

Maddon quickly got his players and other members of the organization involved,

with the list of volunteers growing all weeklong — and culminating with the

surprise front-office participation Thursday of owner Stuart Sternberg,

president Matt Silverman and executive vice president of baseball operations

Andrew Friedman.

“The primary thing is that we’re doing this for pediatric cancer — that’s the

reason why we’re out here,” the Rays skipper said. “The moment Vinny Lecavalier

asked, I wanted to jump on board with this. But I thought it would be a great

time to get the rest of the group involved — get our players involved — in the

cause and (show) empathy for the victims as well as the family members, because

it impacts everybody. From that perspective, I thought it was obviously

worthwhile.

“The selfish side of things is the galvanizing effect it could have on a group

of players and team.”

As for his new, streamlined hairstyle, Maddon remarked, “I was about ready for

something different, so it all came at the right time. It’s very cold right now”

Two hours earlier, Maddon spoke to the media on the field about the impending

event and the growing list of Rays players pledging to join.

“We have a couple on the fence still,” he said. “We have more recruits this

morning, but I think there are going to be some game-time decisions.”

Indeed there were, as the expected two dozen or so Rays planning to lighten

their load on top mushroomed. Players streamed in non-stop along with coaches

like Dave Martinez, Tom Foley, Jim Hickey, Derek Shelton and Don Zimmer.

“I don’t have to go to Jupiter (Fla.) now (for the spring game against the Marlins) — that was the trade-off,” Martinez joked.

“It feels good,” added Foley, his salt-pepper coif cut short. “Westy (equipment

manager Chris Westmoreland) is gonna have to hand out new hat sizes.”

Minutes later, Sternberg worked his way into the crowd wearing a yellow

T-shirt, ready to let the clipping commence.

“It feels nice, nice and cool,” he remarked when the job was done. “I don’t

think you’d want to do this in January, but it works this time of year.”

And what did he think of his manager new  ‘do?

“After that look he had going on, great,” Sternberg said, smiling.

Star third baseman Evan Longoria came into camp sporting a buzz cut, but he

showed up to get an even closer trim.

“We’re here to support the people who are battling through this,” Longoria told

Rays play-by-play man Dewayne Staats, who was roaming through the pack to do

instant commentary and impromptu interviews.

Shields took a peek at himself in a hand-held mirror.

“I feel nice and refreshed,” he said. “Like I said, it’s a good cause. This is

what it’s all about. This is what the Rays are all about. And it’s nice to come

out here and do this.”

It was especially nice for the children dealing with cancer and their families — a number were in attendance Thursday, such as Donna Desantis of Palmetto,

Fla., and her three young children, including 6-year-old Matthew, suffering

from acute lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“To see the players and the Rays support our children like this is just

amazing,” she said. “It’s such a hard thing for the children to go through and

experience the changes and the sickness and the hair loss. So for them to see

their idols doing this so valuable.”

Desantis immediately wanted to bring Matthew and her kids to the event when she

read about it, but she wasn’t sure what steps to take. So a friend, Mark

Bursik, went on to his Twitter account and took a shot at tweeting Maddon a

message to ask if Desantis could bring her children. To Bursik’s surprise,

Maddon tweeted back and helped pave the way to make it happen.

“I did talk to several families and that’s really emotional,” Maddon said. “I

met one grandmother out there, and being a grandfather, I get it. Her grandchild

and her child are being impacted It’s an emotional thing and touches everybody,

so I’m really proud of our guys and the front office.”

The Rays weren’t the only ones supporting the mission Thursday. The club

invited members of the public to participate as well, getting their hair shaved

off for a donation of $100. By mid-afternoon, more than $5,000 had been raised

in on-the-spot donations and donations at pcfcutforacure.org

combined. Plus, more money was being raised by encouraging the public to text

“CUT” to 50555 to make a $10 pledge.

“I think that any time Joe Maddon steps up for a cause, people follow him, but

I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Nancy Crane, executive

director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation in Tampa, Fla. “The players, the

staff and the management of the Rays really reach out for a cause. They have

good hearts. This is an important time of the season for them, but to take off

those blinders for a little while is really incredible. We’re very, very

fortunate and honored.”

For Maddon and the Rays, you could say it was a shear pleasure.