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Once again, could this be the year for Desmond Jennings?

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For most players, excellent springs are nice to have. But they aren’t essential.

You get a few at-bats. You field a few fly balls. You work on your timing. You fine-tune your conditioning. But for most, it really doesn’t matter if you hit .210 or .340. It’s practice, for goodness sakes. It’s a dress rehearsal.

For Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays, however, spring is essential.

Jennings, the left-fielder for the Rays, has always been a bundle of potential for the Rays. Still, it’s time. Jennings played in only 28 games a year ago. General manager Matt Silverman has said that Jennings has the ability to be the best player on the field, and this spring, he’s looked it. He’s hitting at a cool .667 clip.

“I feel good. It’s a relief to have full range of motion in my knee. This is the healthiest I’ve been in quite awhile,” Jennings said. “My mind is right, just to be able to play the game again and be out on the field and having fun. I am enjoying it.”

The Rays, too, like the way things are going. But Jennings was having a good spring last year, too, when he injured his left knee. Later in the season, he needed oral surgery.

Jennings, too, is a key to the Rays’ run-prevention. A former center fielder, he is a plus defensively. If he’s missing, the Rays feel it.

“You always have to think you are the best athlete on the field. Everyone should think that about themselves,” Jennings said.

“What I learned from last year is put it all behind me and move forward. I am not trying to go back to last season. It is what it is. It happened and it’s over.”

What could a healthy Jennings mean to the Rays? In six seasons, he’s a .249 hitter with good speed and a good glove. He would look good for 130 games or so.

“Desmond was having a great spring last year and then the injury bug got him. You can’t separate that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He is having another great spring, and you couldn’t be happier with what he has done. He is really swinging the bat well.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit

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