Commentary

Making himself at home

Tampa native Matt Joyce has helped keep the Rays alive in the AL East

Updated: June 17, 2011, 9:38 AM ET
By Jonah Keri | ESPN The Magazine
Matt JoyceAP Photo/Chris CarlsonMatt Joyce has been at the center of plenty of celebrating thus far in 2011.

A version of this story appears in the June 27, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

His chance to stop all of the chatter stood 60 feet, six inches from the batter's box. For more than a year, Matt Joyce had heard grumblings about his hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, getting the short end of their trade for him. So, here, against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 25, 2010, in his very first game back from a yearlong exile to the minors, Joyce was ready to shut up all doubters at Tropicana Field. All he needed was one swing. And who better to serve up this opportunity than the very pitcher whom the Rays had traded away to get him: Edwin Jackson, a 14-game winner on the Rays' World Series club in 2008.

Adrenaline surged through Joyce, who thought about nothing but going yard and making people forget he'd hit just .188 in his first action with the Rays in 2009. But not everyone gets to be homecoming king, even at their own personal homecoming. In his first at-bat, Joyce swung big but came up well short of the fences with a meek ground ball to first, stranding runners on the corners. Second time up, he floated a can of corn to right. Oh for two. Another weak grounder and lazy fly ball later, and Joyce was hitless on the night. But wait, it gets worse: None of his teammates got a hit either. On the night Joyce tried to prove his worth, Jackson twirled a no-hitter. "Man, you want to talk about a bad day," says Joyce with a grin.

Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.