TAMPA BAY -- Batting practice at Tropicana Field had the feel of a class reunion, as players and staff with ties to both teams mingled prior to the opener between the Astros and Rays on Friday.
The list of baseball figures with Astros and Rays ties is extensive. At the top is Rays vice president of baseball operations Gerry Hunsicker, who was the Astros' GM from 1996-2004. Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey was with the Astros' organization for 16 seasons, including 2 1/2 years at the big league level.
Tim Bogar, who played shortstop for the Astros from 1997-2000, is the Rays' "quality assurance" coach, which covers a variety of roles. He throws batting practice and works with players before games, but he also does a little advance scouting as well. Because Major League rules allow only six coaches to be in the dugout at one time, Bogar sits in the press box during games.
Several players have played for both the Astros and Rays as well. Current Astros Ty Wigginton, Geoff Blum and Brandon Backe were all with the Tampa Bay organization in the last several years. In fact, the Astros acquired Backe for Blum during the Winter Meetings in 2003.
Wigginton was traded to Houston in exchange for reliever Dan Wheeler just before the trade deadline last year, and now Wheeler and left-hander Trever Miller are among the senior members of the Rays' bullpen.
"I would consider myself the charcoal on this team," the 35-year-old Miller said. "We have a lot of diamonds. I am not that. We have a lot of unbelievable arms and talent. But I'm not ashes, either. I still have a lot of good years left in me. You can't burn a steak without the charcoal. That's my role."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.