Before there were Devil Rays, there was Miguel Cairo learning to sign short-term leases and keep his bags packed.
Now, 14 seasons after he was chosen by Tampa Bay in the 1998 Expansion Draft and 11 since it let him go, there is still Miguel Cairo, doing for the Reds what he has done for nine Major League teams -- anything and everything they want.
Cairo, 37, essentially is a second baseman, but in 16 seasons he has played every position except for cente rfield, catcher and pitcher. He is the quintessential utility player.
Of the 42 players who spent any time on the inaugural Devil Rays roster, he is the sole survivor.
"I'm very thankful and grateful for what I have and for what I've accomplished all these years," Cairo said. "To be the last man standing from that '98 season, it feels good that I'm still playing and that I can do it and I can still help a Major League team. I've still got that fire. I still love it."
Dave Martinez was the starting right fielder during the Devil Rays' first three seasons. Now, he's manager Joe Maddon's bench coach with the Rays, which dropped the "Devil" in 2008 and promptly became a contender.
"I think he's a really smart baseball player," Martinez said of Cairo. "He started out his career trying to play second base every day and he did that for a while.
"He finally realized he'd be more valuable doing other things. I think he's a valuable part of the Reds. He does everything asked of him, and he plays so many positions."
Cairo was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent in 1990 and got as high as Double-A San Antonio in 1995 before they traded him to Seattle that November. A month later, the Mariners shipped him to Toronto. He played two games in April for the '96 Blue Jays, was sent to Triple-A Syracuse and wasn't called up again until September.
Next stop, a trade to the Cubs in 1997. He played 16 games for them and 135 for Triple-A Iowa. One year later, the Rays made him their eighth pick in the expansion draft.
"I was in Tampa Bay when we didn't win much, but I learned a lot from that," Cairo said. "It's a plus to see the two faces of baseball, of winning and losing."
He batted .268 his first year with the Devil Rays and improved to .295 with a team-leading 22 stolen bases in 1999.
"He was really caught up in playing every day," Martinez said. "He wanted to make a name for himself. I can remember how intense he was."
He stole a team-high 28 bases in 2000, but a spate of errors early in the season brought criticism from general manager Chuck LaMar and msnager Larry Rothschild.
Cairo's confidence plummeted, along with his batting average to .261. Tampa Bay released him at the end of the season. Then, his odyssey really began.
"When they let me go in 2000 I told myself, 'This will make you stronger or you're going to be done playing baseball,'" Cairo said.
He signed with Oakland, was traded to the Cubs (again) before the 2001 season began, then was waived, picked up by the Cardinals in August and released after the 2003 season.
From then on he signed one-year, free-agent contracts to play for the Yankees, Mets, Yankees (again), Cardinals (again), Mariners (again), Phillies and, in 2010, the Reds. During five of those seasons he had to spend time in the Minors and earn his way back to big leagues.
"In this game, there are always going to be things you can't do well or they think you can't do well, Martinez said. "With [the teams after Tampa Bay released him] he fielded his positions. He got on base. He walked. He hit. He did all the things they wanted of him."
And he's still doing it.
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.