Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
His batting average might be dropping, but the Legend of Sam Fuld rolls on.
Last week, the unheralded, modest-sized outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays — whose hustle and daredevil catches have made him an Internet and Twitter sensation — turned up on the All-Star ballot for the first time.
“If you had asked me three weeks ago,” Fuld said, “I would have said you’re crazy.”
At Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, a popular hangout across the street from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., more than 300 people — six times the normal weeknight crowd with the Rays on the road — turned out Thursday to watch 10 contestants compete in a Sam Fuld lookalike contest, owner Mark Ferguson said. The winner was an 8-year-old girl who darkened her face to simulate the former Cub’s trim beard.
“Everyone was excited,” Ferguson said. “The kid is like a legend.”
Now, among Fuld’s teammates, his name is synonymous with a standard of excellence.
After Rays utility man Ben
Zobrist homered twice and had 10 RBI in a day-night doubleheader sweep of the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, Zobrist pondered the achievement for a moment and said, “This must be what it’s like to feel like Sam Fuld.”
A throw-in by the Cubs in the eight-player deal for pitcher Matt Garza last winter, Fuld was hitting .350 and leading the American League with 10 stolen bases until skidding into a career-worst
Fuld ended the drought Sunday with a leadoff double, but his average has dropped to .274.
No one expected Fuld, 29, to hit .350 all season. But Rays manager Joe Maddon said he thinks Fuld can be a productive every-day player. And even though Fuld has cooled, Maddon expects he’ll draw significant All-Star support.
“You’re going to be surprised by how many people actually vote for him,” Maddon said. “You look at his numbers, they’re pretty darn good. Beyond that, there are a lot of average Americans who can identify with this fellow. He’s hard not to like. He’s Everyman.”
Fuld, a 10th-round pick by the Cubs in the 2004 draft, is listed as 5-10 but admits 5-8 or 5-9 is closer to the truth. Though Fuld had more walks (302) than strikeouts (254) in the minors and thrilled Cubs fans with fearless defense in call-ups over three seasons, he struggled at the plate as a major-leaguer with runners in scoring position. It took him 102 at-bats to collect his first RBI.
Last winter, with Alfonso Sori-
ano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke
Fukudome locked in as outfield starters and Fuld out of minor-league options, the Cubs dealt him to the Rays.
“Different organizations look at different things,” Fuld said. “Maybe the Rays might have
appreciated some of the things I did a little better than Chicago, but at the same time, [the Cubs] did give me chances.”
Maddon worries about Fuld wearing down, though. Fuld takes daily insulin injections for Type 1 diabetes, a condition he has managed since he was 10.
“My biggest concern is keeping him strong,” Maddon said.
With Fuld’s popularity soaring, the Rays replaced a Manny Ramirez bobblehead night with a cape giveaway honoring Fuld on May 29. On Thursday, Fuld started his own Twitter account, @SamFuld5. By the end of the day, he had more than 4,000 followers.
“It’s been overwhelming and, obviously, completely unexpected,” Fuld said of the attention. “It can be a little fatiguing at times, but it’s great.”