Rays right fielder Matt Joyce was planning to spend a few days around mid-July with fiancée Randi Jones in a buddy's condo on a beach, or maybe on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, manager Joe Maddon told him he'd have to shelve those plans.
07/06/2011 1:42 PM ET
Joyce proud of All-Star selection
Rays outfielder was voted by the players for first nod
By Bruce Lowitt / MLBPLAYERS.com
"This is terrible. It ruins my off-days," Joyce said, laughing, as he talked about being selected by his peers to play in the July 12 Major League All-Star Game in Phoenix.
"I never had the opportunity to play on an All-Star team in professional baseball," Joyce said. "This will be my first," since Little League.
He played college ball at Florida Southern in Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers spend Spring Training. They saw enough to spend their 12th-round pick on him in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He sailed through the Minors and by May 5, 2008, he was in the Tigers outfield.
"As you go along you realize how many good players there are and how hard it is to get [to be an All-Star]," Joyce said. The idea of being one this year wasn't even in the back of his mind when the season began. It was more a matter of avoiding a repeat of the start of the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The Rays traded 14-game winner Edwin Jackson to Detroit after the 2008 season to get Joyce, whom they expected to lay claim to right field. Instead, Jackson became an All-Star in 2009 and Joyce wound up in the Minor Leagues for virtually the entire season. He batted .188 (6-for-32) in 11 games.
He'd made the Opening Day roster that year, starting in center field only because B.J. Upton was on the shelf after being hit on the right hand by a pitch during Spring Training. After one week, Upton was reinstated and Joyce was sent to Triple-A Durham.
Things got worse at the start of 2010. A right elbow strain during the spring kept him off the Opening Day roster. He wasn't called up until June 25.
But he had two grand slams in July, the second one breaking up former Detroit teammate Max Scherzer's bid for a no-hitter. The Rays starter, Matt Garza, wound up no-hitting the Tigers that game.
"After the trade, to come in in '09 and play only a couple of weeks and spend most of the season in the Minor Leagues, then make the team the next year and have an opportunity to start every day and then get hurt, that was the most frustrating time for me," Joyce said.
"Coming into this I wanted to show everybody that I belonged, to be a fixture in right field."
At first, it looked like more of the same. He batted .200 with no home runs and just two RBIs in the spring and was at .238 with neither a homer, nor an RBI after nine games.
Then Joyce found his groove. He was batting .321 on May 1. "When you work hard enough, usually your hard work pays off," he said. "You have to put in the effort, the sweat and tears to get to the point when you have that success."
By June 1, his average had soared to a lead-leading .370. But when the first results of the fan voting were announced that day, Joyce wasn't even in the top 15.
Maddon said it was unrealistic to expect Joyce to continue at such a torrid pace, and by the end of June he had settled back down to about .300.
Although the 1.6 million fan votes he wound up with were only good enough for 11th in the balloting, he was fourth on the players' ballot, ahead of Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, one of the fans' elected starters.
"It means a lot to have the guys kind of recognize what you're doing out there," Joyce said. "They're the guys you play against."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.