Originally created 04/12/06

Ray follows long, rambling road to Atlanta



ATLANTA - Randi Ray remembers the difficult moments.

Watching her husband, Ken, leave for work at 3:30 a.m., when he stocked Costco shelves between seasons with minor league teams.

Seeing him have to sometimes beg friends, or friends of friends, to have a scout check him out.

Asking herself how the mortgage payment was going to be made.

Feeling the kick inside her belly last summer, and wondering how many times the growing family could watch a dream flicker and approach its death - and do it again the next year.

Through all these humbling moments, she clinched her lips and stayed silent.

"I just don't think I could do it," Ray said. "He had to make the decision for himself."

It didn't come to that. And, because of that, there's a new feeling rushing to the forefront for the Rays.

Randi sat in the living room of her parents' Arizona home this past Thursday, tears streaming down her face as she watched in awe as Ken pitched two perfect innings for the Atlanta Braves, the team he grew up rooting for in Roswell, Ga., a northern suburb of the city.

That first pitch, a strike to San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds, meant he had thrown for 16 teams in 14 different leagues over 14 years. Ray went on to strike out Bonds, one of the game's best hitters of all time, on four pitches.

"I guess I fared pretty well, huh?" Ray said Thursday afternoon, grinning. "He could've come up there just as easily and hit 500 home runs off me."

It was the first time Ken, 31, had put on a major league uniform this millennium.

"I couldn't ask for anything more perfect than this," Randi said Sunday night with the couple's 6-month-old son, Bryce, sitting nearby. "It almost doesn't seem real."

Ray last pitched in the majors in 1999, 13 games with Kansas City that produced an 8.74 ERA in 11q innings.

Shoulder problems slowed him in the three years after his brief stint with the Royals. Then he slogged through a couple of more minor league seasons.

He was cut by the White Sox early in 2005 after a year with their High-A team in Winston-Salem, N.C.

While playing with North Shore in the Can-Am League, he contacted a Braves minor league coach whom he knew from his time with Kansas City. Mike Alvarez came to watch him pitch and recommended that the Braves sign him.

That was enough to get Ray on board and promoted to Class AAA Richmond.

The Braves asked Ray to pitch in winter ball and, after a strong showing in Mexico, Ray arrived at spring training again a minor league camper.

His above-average fastball and devastatingly effective sinking changeup continued to wow manager Bobby Cox and the Braves' coaches.

After Blaine Boyer's shoulder wasn't healthy enough to work in the bullpen, Ray was on a plane this past Wednesday to meet the team in San Francisco.

Hours later, he was working through two perfect innings against the Giants.

"It feels nice," Ray said, glancing down this past weekend at his sweat-stained gray Braves road uniform. "It's the first uniform I've put on that feels good. ... It feels like I belong."

Reach R. Travis Haney at travis.haney@morris.com.