DURHAM —The Durham Bulls won the International League championship last weekend.
It was the fifth title in 20 years for the Bulls and the experience was also nothing new for many of the players on the team, a core group has come up together through Tampa’s minor league system. At least 10 Bulls were also members of the 2015 Class A Port Charlotte Stone Crabs, who won the Florida State League title.
Two years later, after the bunting has been taken down in the stadium and the champagne mopped off the lockers, they still have a lasting reminder: a championship ring.
“It was special to get that ring,” said Bulls shortstop Willy Adames, a member of the 2015 team. “I’d never had a ring before. I’ve been in the playoffs my whole career, but I didn’t have an opportunity to win a ring.”
What do you do with a championship ring once you’ve won it? We tracked down some of the jewelry from this year’s Bulls team.
First baseman Jake Bauers started 2015 with Port Charlotte and hit six home runs in 59 games. He helped lead the Stone Crabs to the first half championship — the Florida State League plays a split season, with the first and second half winners earning postseason spots.
Bauers was promoted at midseason, to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. When the Stone Crabs won their title, Bauers was 565 miles away.
“I was with the Biscuits, and we were actually in the playoffs, too,” Bauers recalled. The Biscuits lost Game 3 of their first-round series to Charlotte — they would lose the series the following day.
Port Charlotte’s game went to extra innings, which meant that, after their game, the Montgomery players had a chance to catch the ending, listening to the radio broadcast online.
“We got in, and we knew that it was their deciding game, Game 5. So we listened and got fired up for them,” Bauers said.
When the Stone Crabs won, on a walk-off walk in the 13th, Bauers had his ring. Not being there led to some mixed feelings, though.
“I wasn’t there when they won it,” he said. “I got a ring, but I didn’t get to play in the playoffs. I didn’t get to win the championship. It still meant something to me, to be part of a team that wins a championship, but I think when you’re not there, you don’t get the full experience of it. I think being on the field will be something more special. It’ll mean a little more, I’m sure.”
Where’s the ring now?
“I think it’s in my room, at home, somewhere,” he said, “tucked away in a drawer. I guess I’ll wait for another ring to show off.”
Adames doesn’t have any mixed feelings about his Stone Crabs ring.
“I was there for the whole year,” he said. “I didn’t play in the playoffs, because I was hurt, but I was there supporting my teammates.”
The experience was still fresh in his mind, two years later. “Oh man, it’s awesome, man,” he said. “You enjoy every moment, every little second.”
And his ring?
“It’s in the hotel,” he said, gesturing toward a group of buildings on the Durham skyline, visible from the ballpark. “It’s right there. I have it. I always bring it with me, everywhere I go.”
He doesn’t wear it very often, though. “I don’t remember the last time I put it on,” he said. “I don’t wear my ring. It’s big — doesn’t go with a lot of stuff, but I like to have it.”
Pitcher Ryan Yarbrough wasn’t with that Port Charlotte team. In fact, he wasn’t even in the Rays organization.
Yarbrough was in the Seattle system until being traded to Tampa this January. In his last game as a Mariners’ prospect, in September 2016, Yarbrough won the Southern League title with the Double-A Jackson Generals.
Remarkably, Yarbrough still hasn’t seen his ring.
“They give out the rings in spring training,” Yarbrough explained. “I was with my new team then, so I couldn’t go,” he said. “They asked me where they should send the ring, and I had them send it home (to his father’s house).”
Since then, he’s been busy pitching every fifth day with the Bulls and hasn’t had a chance to make it back home to see the ring.
“My dad said it’s a really nice ring,” he said.
Even odder, Yarbrough has seen the ring that the 2016 Jackson players received, just not his own. Andrew Kittredge, a reliever on this year’s Bulls team, was also a member of the 2016 Generals. The Mariners traded him to Tampa in a separate deal in November.
“Kittredge had them send it to his address in spring training,” Yarbrough said. “So he had it all year. I saw his. It’s nice.”