Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/13/13
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. James Shields transition was never difficult, just a little weird. He is clear to make the distinction. The Tampa Bay Rays were his home, his professional family, for seven major league seasons. Something was formed in that time. Comfort, yes. A workhorse reputation, sure. But also a bond to a place and its people. Those ties never disappear, even if his uniform has become a deeper shade of blue. On Thursday evening, Shields was back in the bowels of Tropicana Field, speaking about his former life with the Rays and a new one with the Kansas City Royals. The visit was his first to his former stadium since he was part of a blockbuster trade in December that sent him to a franchise searching to contend in the American League Central. He was among friends. The setting provided intrigue, but his sensation was not completely unfamiliar. The odd pangs of facing his former team were felt the first time at Kauffman Stadium, where he allowed two runs and five hits and struck out seven in a Royals victory April 30. That was the start of moving on. For Shields, this visit to the Bay Area is more about nostalgia than performance. Because of odd coincidence, he will not pitch in the four-game series. Clearly, that fact disappoints him. Still, these days are necessary. They are part of the evolution for him, the Rays and the Royals. They are enjoyable. In some ways, though, they are also bittersweet. Being in the same organization for 12 years, you get accustomed to the same thing every year going to spring training, seeing the same guys, seeing the same coaching staff, Shields said. Now, youre the new guy. Im 31 years old now. Now, Im finally the new guy, and Im not the old greybeard anymore. Since Shields left, it was known his departure would be a theme for this Rays season. He pitched no fewer than 203 13 innings in each of the past six years. He became a mentor to David Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. He grew into a face of a turnaround from the hopeless Devil Rays days to a more successful era. Shields became a veteran voice. He matured into an example. That is his legacy here. It is found in his memories (he called the World Series berth in 2008 his best), his influence (Price and left-hander Matt Moore speak about him with reverence) and his impact (the Rays played a tribute to him on the videoboard beyond right field Thursday that ended with the message, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, JAMES). For me to get here and see James go about his business hes a beast, Moore said. Hes going to battle through a workout if he doesnt want to. Hes going to use that as fuel. And to see how he goes out there in later innings was especially important for me to watch. It was especially important for me to get to see the way that he attacked late in a game. Part of why Shields was so popular here is that he achieved a rare balance. He was a grinder but also a giver. He set a standard for his peers but also inspired them to match him. He was a competitor, fierce and relentless. Big Game was Big Time. He also approached his role with a deft touch. I really pride myself in helping each and every one of those guys over there, Shields said. No matter how good or bad I was doing, it didnt matter. All I cared about was winning. He did plenty of it here with 87 victories in 217 starts. That is partly why he is gone. He became an asset, an innings-eater, someone who has continued that reputation in helping lead the Royals to the top of the American League in staff ERA (3.45 before Thursday). The transition includes some glances back. On Wednesday night, Shields flew into the region with his wife, Ryane. They looked forward to seeing friends, Shields former teammates, their old Clearwater, Fla., neighborhood. But something about the arrival felt different. As his plane approached, Shields thought, This is our home. Its kind of weird. This season, that former home has never drifted far away. The move is too recent. Price still texts him, asking for leadership advice. Before the game Thursday, Shields stood in the batters box for warm-up pitches in Prices simulated game. Shields chatted with Rays manager Joe Maddon, hugged designated hitter Luke Scott during batting practice. Shortly before the game, Shields struck up a conversation with a Rays employee in a concourse near the Royals clubhouse. Whats up, dude? Shields said. Did you miss home? the man said. Yeah, I miss it. It is strange seeing that different blue over there, Maddon said a little later. I told him just enjoy your four days here. Enjoy the family. Enjoy the vacation here at home. But hes pitching well for them. The transition continues, but Shields memories linger. During the Rays video tribute, midway through the second inning, slow applause from the crowd built with time. He stepped from the Royals dugout and turned toward the stands. Fans stood. He waved and patted his heart. This place, this former home, will never be distant from it. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Gordon Hayward's agent indicates he's likely out for the season

Masahiro Tanaka joins Yankees legends with dominant Game 5 start

Willson Contreras admires his work after crushing 491-foot home run

Jeremy Lin to have knee injury evaluated amid ‘tremendous concern’

Bulls' Mirotic out 4-6 weeks, Portis suspended eight games

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Gordon Hayward to undergo surgery Wednesday night

Jim Harbaugh defends quarterbacks from blame for Michigan’s struggles

Gronk: Patriots told not to discuss Super Bowl LI this week

Vikings backup QB: Bridgewater looked normal in return to practice

Carmelo Anthony: Phil Jackson wanted 'to trade me for a bag of chips'

Tampa named official host of Super Bowl LV in 2021

NFL Week 7 Predictions

The 'Can I have a quick sword with you?' quiz

College football 2017 Week 8 predictions

NFL Referee Hotline Bling: Austin Seferian-Jenkins drops a call

Blackhawks get extra depth on defense with newbies Rutta and Forsling

The 'Old faces in new places' quiz

Nikola Jokic: A throwback superstar for the modern era

25 questions heading into the 2017-18 NBA season

The 'Sure do hope you have a backup plan in place' quiz

Tale of the Tape: National League Championship Series

Sports & Politics Intersect: White House looms large over sports world for another week

The 'A butcher, a Baker, a touchdown maker' quiz

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

NFL Week 7 Predictions

College football 2017 Week 8 predictions

The 'Can I have a quick sword with you?' quiz

NFL Referee Hotline Bling: Austin Seferian-Jenkins drops a call

Blackhawks get extra depth on defense with Rutta and Forsling

The 'Old faces in new places' quiz

25 questions heading into the 2017-18 NBA season

The 'Sure do hope you have a backup plan in place' quiz

Tale of the Tape: National League Championship Series

Sports & Politics Intersect: White House looms large over sports world for another week

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker