Navarro Back In Camp

Dioner Navarro

After a dreadful first few months, Dioner Navarro had a very productive second half, posting the third best batting average (.286) among regular starting American League backstops. Only Jorge Posada (.355) and A.J. Pierzynski (.286) were better. And, although he has been through more than any 24-year-old should have to, Navarro seems poised to have a breakout season, says Ted Fleming.

ST. PETERSBURG - He wears uniform #30 because doctors told him his wife would pass away on September 30, just three days after she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2003.

Monday morning he reported to camp after another family crisis jolted him - another aneurysm, this time by his mother.

Dioner Navarro's wife Sherley is healthy now. His mother Rosa remains in a Venezuelan hospital in intensive care, however.

"She's in good hands," he said, not really wanting to talk about it. "She's stable. She's fine. All we have to do is wait. I just want to concentrate on being here."

Navarro thought he lost Sherley that night on the ambulance ride to St. Joseph's Hospital and the paramedics brought her back from the brink of death. She was still paralyzed on one side and had blood on the brain. There was a lot of surgery and uncertainty ahead. In fact, Dioner and her parents were asked to sign death papers.

She recovered but not without some lingering effects of the episode and had she succumbed there never would have been the birth of their son, Dioner Abdiel.

You would think those traumatic incidents were enough for one person to bear, but Navarro had other bumps between the two.

On July 4, 2006, the SUV he was driving rolled over a couple of times. His wife and then nine-month old son escaped serious injury. Dioner missed a few games. In September, he left the team to attend to medical issues involving Dioner Jr.

Just before the Rays hit the field for their fourth day of camp, Navarro talked about the trip from Venezuela to St. Petersburg..

"I got back at midnight," the catcher said. "It was a long flight." It did not help that he spent a lot of time in San Juan making connections. "Other than that, everything was all right."

Too look at him you would never know what is churning inside, although he admits it has made him a better person.

"I guess all that stuff that happens to me makes be stronger. It makes me realize that I have people around me to keep me strong. I'm here and hopefully my teammates will help me get through this.'

Before this latest problem, Navarro was truly excited about 2008, not so much because the team has improved but because he has something to build on from last season.

After a dreadful first few months, the 24-year old had a very productive second half, posting the third best batting average (.286) among regular starting American League backstops. Only Jorge Posada (.355) and A.J. Pierzynski (.286) were better.

He spent most of the offseason working out at the Naimoli Complex and says he is in the best shape of his life.

"I know this year is going to be big," he said. "Everyone around here is excited. We just can't wait to go out and perform the way we want to do. I went down to Venezuela to play for about 21-days after I did my work here. It paid off a little bit down there."

Navarro talks about his mobility behind the plate which he calls "smooth," and is watching his diet, most especially staying away from late meals.

"I feel really great. Hopefully I don't let anyone down this season."

A simple wish.


DIAMOND DUST:

PERCY THE PEOPLE PLEASER: You might say that Troy Percival has been a great addition because of his on-field ability but as Joe Maddon points out, there's more to the closer than just getting people out. "If you watch him in the morning, he grabs his cup of coffee and he works the room. He'll go down and sit with one cluster, then another cluster, and then another. He's always been like that, I've known him for years, and he's always been like that. I know he's putting out a good message. Working today we wanted to bring him in a little early, but he wanted to stay out with his group. "I need to be with my group" that's Percy. He is going to be a really good influence on the entire group and we're already seeing it. When the season begins and he starts racking up some saves, it's going to get even more prominent."

NUMBERS ADDING UP: Just one pitcher, Juan Salas, remains absent from workouts, as the right-handed reliever is still delayed in the Dominican Republic with visa issues. Position players Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman are also expected to report late due to the same problems. However, infielders Andy Cannizaro and Eric Hinske reported today.

EATIN' GOOD IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Rays President Matt Silverman, Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations Gerry Hunsicker, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer, Special Advisor Fred McGriff, pitcher Scott Kazmir, shortstop Jason Bartlett and outfielder Cliff Floyd will be in attendance at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon tomorrow at the Marriott Waterside. To make reservations go to www.tampachamber.com or call (813) 276-9440.

RAYS ON THE ROAD: Rays outfielders Jonny Gomes, Justin Ruggiano, pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, mascot Raymond and broadcaster Rich Herrera will visit Brooksville on Thursday afternoon as part of the club's 2008 Community Days. The group will visit Brooksville Elementary School; conduct a clinic at Ernie Weaver Park; and then mingle with members of the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce at WWJB Radio.

TURN ON, TUNE IN: The Rays will broadcast a dozen games this year via their radio partners, 1250 WHNZ and 620 WDAE. There will also be two games telecast by Fox Sports Net Florida. Here is the schedule - ALL GAMES AT 1:05pm UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED:

• March 1 vs Toronto - WHNZ

• March 2 @ Pittsburgh - WHNZ

• March 8 @ NY Yankees - WDAE --- 1:15pm

• March 9 vs. Cincinnati - WHNZ

• March 15 @ Atlanta (ss)- WDAE, or

• March 15 @ NY Yankees (ss) - WDAE --- 1:15pm

• March 16 vs Detroit - WHNZ / FSN

• March 21 @ NY Yankees - WDAE ---- 7:15pm

• March 22 vs. Pittsburgh - WHNZ

• March 23 @ Reds - WHNZ

• March 28 vs Reds - WHNZ / FSN

• March 29 @ Reds - WHNZ

TURN ON, TUNE IN - PART II: The Rays hot stove radio show, "Countdown to Opening Day", goes live from Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill Monday, February 18 at 7 p.m. on 620-AM WDAE. Ferg's is located at 1320 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, adjacent to Tropicana Field (727-822-4562). Monday's show will feature Rays Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations Gerry Hunsicker and pitcher Matt Garza.

FANFEST: The Rays will hold their annual FanFest from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, Feb., 23, at Tropicana Field. FanFest is a free event with free admission and free parking that includes a team autograph session and panel discussions with various Rays players, alumni, coaches, broadcasters and front office executives throughout the event. Fans of all ages will have the opportunity to take a swing in a big league batting cage, test their fastball in the speed pitch booth, hit a home run in the Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby, take the Home-to-First Speed Challenge, and tour the Rays clubhouse. Artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame will be showcased as well as artifacts from the world's largest autographed baseball collection, including balls signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and many others. There will also be a baseball card show.

GIT YER TICKETS HERE: Single game tickets will go on sale at FanFest starting at 9:00 a.m. at the Tropicana Field box office, Tampa office, and all TicketMaster locations. Tickets can also be purchased online (www.raysbaseball.com or www.raysbeisbol.com) or by calling 888-FAN-RAYS. Additionally, fans will have the chance to purchase season tickets and mini-plans inside the ballpark throughout the day.

MORE FANFEST INFORMATION: MLB.com analyst Harold Reynolds will be available for a Q&A at 1 p.m. Former Ray and "The Rookie" Jim Morris will be signing autographs from 10a.m.-2p.m. 19 former major leaguers will be signing autographs throughout the day including former American League Rookies of the Year Gary Peters and Tom Tresh.

Ted Fleming, the manager of TBSN Radio 510, has been covering the sports scene in the Tampa Bay area for the last decade via radio and print. His radio show, Speaking of Sports, is syndicated by the Black Athletes Sports Network live daily for two hours, starting at 11:00 A.M. He frequently discusses the Rays daily on his show, which you can listen to live by clicking here. Additionally, he is a stringer for the PA SportsTicker and has previously worked for WEEI in Boston, ESPN 1050 in New York and Metro Sports. You can reach him by sending an email to ted@tbsnradio510.com.

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