Port Angeles-bred pitcher Ridgway traded to Atlanta Braves

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles native Jeff Ridgway is having an early Christmas in 2008. The hard-throwing southpaw, who pitched in his first major league games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last summer, was visited by Santa Claus and possibly the Easter Bunny by phone in the guise of Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren on Thursday night.

“I’m very excited, I’m more excited than I have ever been, this is better than when I was drafted,” Ridgway said by phone a mere 1½ hours after being told by Wren that the Braves traded two players to Tampa Bay for him.

Ridgway, who was spending a quiet evening in his Charleston, S.C., home with his “very pregnant” wife, Elli, and their two young children, was caught off-guard by Wren’s phone call.

Like a rookie batter facing a juiced-up Roger Clemens, he never saw it coming.

“Am I surprised? How can you predict an earthquake?” he said.

For Ridgway, though, this is a good shaking up of his life.

“This is not a new chapter in my life, it’s a new novel,” he said.

Ridgway, 27, said he feels a lot of good is coming his way because Atlanta is a first-class organization.

The first thing he will receive is recognition as a bona fide baseball player.

“Now when I say I play for the Atlanta Braves, people will know I’m a baseball player,” he said. “A lot of people think Tampa Bay is a soccer team.”

The second thing is motivation.

“It’s very motivating because they are first-class all-around,” he said. “If you earn something, they will give it to you.”

The Port Angeles High School graduate and prep pitching legend said that both he and Atlanta will make out on this deal.

“If I’m in peak condition, I can offer a lot to them,” he said.

Wren told him on the phone “how excited they are for me to be going to their team and having the option of another left-hander,” Ridgway said.

For another thing, Atlanta is just a 4½-hour drive from his home in South Carolina, and his family may not have to move.

The Ridgway family, which will soon have five members because Elli is due Feb. 20 with the couple’s third child, also has relatives in Fayetteville, Ga., which is just south of Atlanta.

Ridgway also is excited because a team would want him so much to trade two players for him, including a major-league infielder, 24-year-old Willy Aybar.

Aybar, who has had a troubled career with the Braves, was traded along with minor-league shortstop Chase Fontaine.

Aybar missed the 2007 season because of injury and substance-abuse suspension.

Wren told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter David O’Brien that Aybar had a good winter playing ball in his native Dominican Republic “but we felt it was more important to get some upper-level depth since we don’t have a lot of left-handed relievers at the higher levels.

“[Ridgway] is a power-arm who can get it up to 94 [mph].”

Ridgway struggled in three short appearances with the Devil Rays at the end of 2007, getting only one out while allowing seven runs, seven hits and one walk.

But according to a poll in the Journal-Constitution on Thursday night, Braves fans are happy to get Ridgway.

There were 408 voters, or 74.59 percent who agreed “Good move; best to get a lefty, let Aybar have a fresh start elsewhere.”

Only 139 voters, or 25.41 percent, agreed “Bad move; Aybar had talent and the reliever they acquired is unproven.”

And if Ridgway needs any advice about major-league baseball, all he has to do is go to his in-laws. Scott Fletcher, related to his wife, has a 14-year major-league career on six teams, including the Texas Rangers.

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