Kevin Stocker played for both teams, including Philly's 1993 World Series squad.
Kevin Stocker remembers being in a dentist’s office during the dark days of Tampa Bay baseball. And weren’t they all, until this year?
The receptionist asked Stocker what he did for a living.
“I play for the Devil Rays,” he told her.
“Oh, is that the new soccer team?” the woman replied.
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Stocker, now 38 and seven years removed from his major-league career, embarking on a new career as owner of an Emerald City Smoothie franchise near Spokane, laughs over the phone.
“You could almost see the stadium from the office!” he marveled. “That attitude carried over for all three years I was there. When the Yankees came to town, there would be 40,000 at the park, and 38,000 would be for the Yankees.”
But those days are long gone, and Stocker — the University of Washington product, by way of Central Valley High School in Spokane — is enjoying the Rays’ transformation into a World Series team.
But not nearly as much as he’s enjoying the revival of the Phillies, the team to which he’s most closely associated. And, unquestionably, the team to which he holds the strongest allegiance.
“My loyalties are with the Phillies,” said Stocker, living in Liberty Lake, outside Spokane. “They treat their former players great. To this day, they still call and keep in contact. Tampa Bay was a real tough place to play. They’ve turned things around, but I still have those years hanging over me.”
An original Devil Ray, Stocker is pulling for the Phillies in the World Series.
“I see them winning in six,” he said before Thursday’s Game 2.
Stocker wants to see the Phils make it right after being on the field when Joe Carter hit his epic homer in Game 6 of the 1993 Series.
“It was a long walk,” he recalled ruefully. “I had gone out for the relay. I thought it [Carter’s hit] was too high, and would drop on the warning track. Inky [left fielder Pete Incaviglia] kept going back. When he put his hands on the wall, I knew it was not good.”
A starting shortstop as a rookie on those ribald ’93 Phillies, the last Philadelphia team in the World Series, Stocker was traded to Tampa Bay during the expansion draft in November 1997. The Phillies acquired a little-known outfielder that the Rays had just selected from Houston — Bobby Abreu, who would become an All-Star.
“What a terrible trade for the Phillies,” Stocker says good-naturedly. “What were they thinking?”
Riddled by injuries, Stocker never clicked with the Rays, where he was limited to 231 games over two-plus seasons. His manager was Larry Rothschild, now Lou Piniella’s pitching coach on the Cubs.
The Rays, who lost 99 and 93 games in Stocker’s two full seasons, released him in May 2000. He hooked on with the Angels, but his heart wasn’t in it. In 2001, Stocker reported to spring training with the Mets in Florida, but retired before he even suited up.
“Mentally, I was not there,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I’d go to camp and make sure I had gotten it out of my system.”
Now Stocker lives with his wife, Brooke, and three children. Last year was the first, he said, that he didn’t have to fight an urge to suit up when spring training rolled around.
Stocker, who never came close to matching his .324 average as a rookie in that magical ’93 season, bleeds Philly red.
“My heart is still with Philadelphia.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org