PORT CHARLOTTE Getting cut in spring training was never anything like this.
Before a crowd of smiling and cheering spectators, the Tampa Bay Rays' roster got trimmed in a most unusual fashion Thursday morning with the hair of players, coaches, staff and manager Joe Maddon cascading onto the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk.
Donning yellow T-shirts with the message "Fortune Favors The Bald, the Rays parted with their locks in a symbolic show of support for children batting cancer with all proceeds benefitting the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric and Blood Disorders Cancer Center at All Childrens Hospital.
In all, 37 uniformed Rays and another 34 members of the front office took their seats in a handful of barber chairs lining the boardwalk and gladly did their part to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Leading the way was Maddon, whose wavy, auburn-dyed hair was among the first to be shorn.
Team barber Wilbur Bonilla calmly mowed through Maddons mop a frequent topic of discussion and target of ribbing over the past few months until only a layer of close-cropped white hair covered his head.
Thats a nice melon, quipped pitching ace James Shields, moments before saying goodbye to much of his thick, curly brown hair.
Maddon even poked a little fun at his recent hairstyle.
All this other hair shenanigans has been going on long enough, he said as Bonilla ran electric clippers over his scalp.
Fans quickly gave Maddon the thumbs up when he displayed his clean-cut look, more in line with his familiar flat-top look he sported prior to growing his hair out last year.
His kidding aside, the two-time AL manager of the Year has enthusiastically embraced the head-shaving mission, ever since the idea was broached to him over the winter by Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier.
Maddon quickly got his players and other members of the organization involved, with the list of volunteers growing all week long and culminating with the surprise front-office participation Thursday of owner Stuart Sternberg, president Matt Silverman and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
The primary thing is that were doing this for pediatric cancer thats the reason why were out here, the Rays skipper said. The moment Vinny Lecavalier asked, I wanted to jump on board with this. But I thought it would be a great time to get the rest of the group involved get our players involved in the cause and (show) empathy for the victims as well as the family members, because it impacts everybody. From that perspective, I thought it was obviously worthwhile.
The selfish side of things is the galvanizing effect it could have on a group of players and team.
As for his new, streamlined hairstyle, Maddon remarked, I was about ready for something different, so it all came at the right time. Its getting kind of cold outside.
Two hours earlier, Maddon spoke to the media on the field about the impending event and the growing list of by Rays players pledging to join in.
We have a couple on the fence still, he said. We have more recruits this morning, but I think there are going to be some game-time decisions.
Indeed there were, as the expected two dozen or so Rays planning to lighten their load on top mushroomed. Players streamed in non-stop along with coaches like Dave Martinez, Tom Foley, Jim Hickey, Derek Shelton and Don Zimmer.
I dont have to go to Jupiter now (for the Marlins trip) that was the trade-off, Martinez joked.
It feels good, added Foley, his salt-pepper coif cut short. Westy (equipment manager Chris Westmoreland) is gonna have to hand out new hat sizes.
Minutes later, Sternberg worked his way into the crowd wearing a yellow T-shirt, ready to let the clipping commence.
It feels nice, nice and cool, he remarked when the job was done. I dont think youd want to do this in January, but it works this time of year.
And how did he think his manager looks with the new do?
After that look he had going on, great, Sternberg said, smiling.
Star third baseman Evan Longoria came into camp sporting a buzz cut, but he showed up to get an even closer trim.
Were here to support the people who are battling through this, Longoria told Rays play-by-play man Dewayne Staats, who was roaming through the pack to do instant commentary and impromptu interviews.
Shields took a peek at himself in a hand-held mirror.
I feel nice and refreshed, he said. Like I said, its a good cause. This is what its all about. This is what the Rays are all about. And its nice to come out here and do this.
It was especially nice for the children dealing with cancer and their families a number were in attendance Thursday, such as Donna Desantis of Palmetto and her three young children, including 6-year-old Matthew, suffering from acute lymphoblastic Leukemia.
To see the players and the Rays support our children like this is just amazing, she said. Its such a hard thing for the children to go through and experience the changes and the sickness and the hair loss. So for them to see their idols doing this so valuable.
Desantis immediately wanted to bring Matthew and her kids to the event when she read about it, but she wasnt sure what steps to take. So a friend Mark Bursik went on to his Twitter account and took a shot at tweeting Maddon a message to ask if Desantis could bring her children. To Bursiks surprise, Maddon tweeted back and helped pave the way to make it happen.
I did talk to several families and thats really emotional, Maddon said. I met one grandmother out there, and being a grandfather, I get it. Her grandchild and her child are being impacted Its an emotional thing and touches everybody, so Im really proud of our guys and the front office.
The Rays werent the only ones supporting the mission Thursday. The club invited members of the public to participate as well, getting their hair shaved off for a donation of 100. By mid-afternoon, more than 5,000 had been raised in on-the-spot donations and donations at pcfcutforacure.org combined, and more money was being raised by encouraging the public to text "CUT" to 50555 to make a 10 pledge.
I think that any time Joe Maddon steps up for a cause, people follow him, but Ive never seen anything like this before, said Nancy Crane, executive director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation in Tampa. The players, the staff and the management of the Rays really reach out for a cause. They have good hearts. This is an important time of the season for them, but to take off those blinders for a little while is really incredible. Were very, very fortunate and honored.
For Maddon and the Rays, you could say it was a shear pleasure.