Despite a rough start, Joyce has made a name for himself in the majors.

By Adam Musgrave

When he graduated from Armwood High School in 2002, it would have been hard to predict that Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Matt Joyce would already be where he is today: a playmaker for his hometown Rays, a member of the 2011 All-Star Team and a role model for the very community in which he grew up.

Joyce’s major-league debut came in May 2008 with the Detroit Tigers. By the end of the year, the team had traded him to the Rays. He spent most of 2009 in the minors and only earned a solid slot in the lineup in June of 2010.

Despite the tumultuous start. though, Joyce came back stronger every time. Last season, he helped to drive the Rays to an unlikely playoff appearance and was named to the American League All-Star Team for the first time in his career.

“Being in my first All-Star game was awesome, like going back to my first at bat,” Joyce recalled.

Returning to Tampa and playing with the Rays has been equally thrilling, added Joyce. “Coming back and playing at home has been great,” he said. “It’s awesome to have my family and friends involved in the game, and the Rays are just a really great organization to play for.”

His favorite memory, however, came before he ever put on a Rays jersey.

“It was my first at bat in front of my dad,” he recalled. “He had been having some health problems with his back and he didn’t think he was going to be able to come. I hit my first home run then. After, I looked up and found him in the stands. It was just an amazing feeling.”

Joyce’s father has been a motivating factor even from the earliest moments of his baseball career. “He really encouraged me and kept me focused on the game. Without him and the rest of my family,” Joyce admitted. “I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The Rays open their season at home against the New York Yankees on April 6. At the teams’ last meeting,  Joyce hit a three-run home run to win the game and propel his team into the playoffs. As he becomes more and more successful, expect him to be a factor once more.

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