Gregg Zaun wants to play forever, or at least as long as Julio Franco played in the major leagues, and that seemed like forever.
For the 38-year-old Zaun, that would mean another 10 years.
He would like to get 20 years in the big leagues and finish as the oldest man to ever catch a major league game.
“That’s not up to me,” Zaun said. “All I can do is play well. The rest is up to the powers that be.”
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Zaun, the Tampa Bay Rays’ recently acquired catcher, has more immediate plans. He would like to return to postseason baseball. He hasn’t tasted champagne since 1997 when he was a backup for the World Series champion Florida Marlins.
That’s why he was thrilled when the Baltimore Orioles traded him to the Rays earlier this month, a move that lifted Zaun from last place to the race for the wild-card.
“That was a nice shot in the arm,” Zaun said. “Very, very flattering that the Rays would include me.”
Actually, Zaun didn’t say that as much as shout it.
It was Sunday morning and Zaun was sitting in front of his locker, which is tucked in the back corner of the Rays clubhouse. The day before, he sat at a nearby table and downloaded a few hours of the heaviest heavy metal and loudest rock music he could find. On Sunday, he turned the volume on high and pressed play. The walls shook. The joint jumped.
“He was trying to wake up the room,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“He did,” Rays reliever J.P. Howell said.
A few hours later, Zaun came off the bench and delivered a two-out grand slam in the eighth inning to give his new team a 5-2 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Zaun didn’t plan on the grand slam, though he is no stranger to them. He did plan on doing something to help the Rays win that game.
“When I’m in the lineup I want to do everything I can to help my team win,” he said. “When I’m not playing I’m going to do everything I can to support my teammates.”
That includes hustling down from the bullpen to warm up the pitcher while Dioner Navarro puts on his catcher’s gear, and blasting Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” throughout the clubhouse Sunday morning.
You may have noticed the Rays sometimes come up flat during afternoon games, when the routine calls for a later reporting time and no batting practice. Also, Sunday was family day, meaning a good number of Zaun’s teammates were out on the field playing with their children and posing for a group picture. Nothing wrong with that, except maybe the normal pregame routine would be further interrupted.
So, in an effort to get everyone’s head right for the game with the Jays, Zaun got in everyone’s head.
“It was more fun today than any day I’ve been here for,” Howell said.
This should work well, Zaun and the Rays. He’s old enough to bring that veteran perspective to the clubhouse, smart enough to have improved his game while playing behind Charles Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez and Brad Ausmus, hungry enough to want another run at the World Series and young enough to think he can play until he’s 48, like Franco.
“The thing about being 38 that stinks is everyone sees that number, 38. But I’m not your typical 38-year-old,” Zaun said. “I am youthfully exuberant. I still feel I can make some youthful contributions.”
On Sunday, that was hitting the game-winning grand slam after spending the morning as DJ Greggie Fresh.
“I want to be playing in October,” Zaun said, “so if that means I’m DJing for two more months, I’m DJing for two more months.”