ST. PETERSBURG -- How big is James Shields' return to Tampa Bay? Big enough that a press conference was held to accommodate all of the interview requests. Big enough that the Rays had a scoreboard video tribute to Shields on their in-game schedule.
Shields, after all, was a big part of the Tampa Bay franchise for seven years, winning 87 games and helping them into three postseasons including the 2008 World Series. Then last winter he was traded along with fellow pitcher Wade Davis and infielder Elliot Johnson to the Royals for four prospects.
Shields had seen the Rays in Kansas City in two games (the third was snowed out) earlier this season, but this was his first time at Tropicana Field as a visiting player.
"It was a little weird," Shields said. "I got to see Doug in Security. Just seeing all the guys has been great. I was kind of wishing I was going to pitch here, but, unfortunately, in a four-game series I'm missing it here. But I've got a lot of good memories here, a lot of happy times and a lot of good friends."
Shields is the only member of the Royals' rotation who will not pitch in this series. But he faced the Rays at home April 30 in Kansas City and beat them.
Before batting practice Thursday, Shields went onto the field where his Rays buddy, left-hander David Price, was pitching in a simulated game as he comes back from a triceps strain.
"I did step in against Price but only in his warmup pitches," Shields said. "I didn't take the bat off my shoulder, though. I want to keep my .333 average on the year."
Then he wandered around the field, talking to ex-teammates.
"I played with a lot of those guys for so many years, and you become good friends with them," Shields said. "And to come back and actually face them here in the dome is definitely a little different. But we're all friends in baseball. In between the lines, in the game, we're enemies, but when it comes down to it, I've built a lot of good relationships."
His best memory from his 12 years in the organization?
"Going to the World Series," he said. "That and winning my first game in the playoffs in Rays history was probably my best memory here. From where we came back in '07 and to do what we did in 2008 was very special. The whole entire city came together, and we were doing the Mohawks (haircuts) and the whole deal. That was a fun time."
Shields noted that with the Royals he had encountered the same family-type atmosphere that he enjoyed with the Rays.
"It's not too different; Ned [Yost] has been great," Shields said. "He's about as good a player's manager as you can get. He's really been positive all year long, and I think that's one of the reasons why, as of late, we've had success, because in the month of May we really didn't do too well, and we kind of stuck to the process and were really grinding it out. The guys are great in the clubhouse, and it's very similar to what we had over here."
Shields was working in some time outside Tropicana Field as well.
"I'm in the process of selling my house; I got an offer on it," Shields said. "But I wanted to go back and see my neighborhood. I've got some friends out here. The people in this community treated me and my family with the utmost respect. We have a place in our heart for this community, the fan base here, and the foster children here. Me and my wife were really big into that, and we're actually going to see one of the foster families while we're here."
His personal record is just 2-6 despite a 2.79 ERA. But he has helped the Royals to first place in American League ERA, just as he helped Tampa Bay have the best ERA last year.
"Unfortunately I haven't gotten a lot of wins, but my team has won the last three games I've been out, and that's all that really matters to me," he said.
Even though Shields is not pitching in this series, has he given the other four starters any tips about pitching to his old teammates?
"Hey, we're not going to let that cat out of the bag, know what I'm saying? Ask me that after the series is over," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.