Brent Honeywell has only been with Charlotte for about a month, and when he walked into the team's clubhouse on Friday afternoon, he thought he was being pranked.
"I came in and I don't see anyone in the clubhouse. I knew something was up, I thought, 'Hey, they're playing a joke on me,'" Honeywell said.
"In comes my conditioning coach [Justin Weiss] he says, 'There's 10-foot gator in the dugout!'"
Sure enough, Honeywell, the Rays' No. 5 prospect, walked out to the infield and found all of his teammates and coaches standing around the visitors' dugout at Charlotte Sports Park. Inside, backed into the corner under the wooden dugout bench, was a 10-foot alligator.
"Everybody was out there, coaches were out -- it was awesome, kind of cool," Honeywell said. "Welcome to the Florida State League."
The rogue alligator, Honeywell speculated, may have entered the stadium through an open gate in the outfield fence. He said there is a pond out behind the outfield wall in left field, and the Stone Crabs are familiar with the gators that frequently sit out there.
"I dunno if he came up from the pond behind left field, but I guess he walked the track and down the stairs and into the dugout," Honeywell said. "There's a pond in left field, right over the beer shack. I thought it was pretty cool. We take BP on the back fields -- we have gators all over the place down here. It's uncommon to see them in the dugout but not uncommon to see them around."
There are an estimated 1.3 million gators in the state of Florida. The Stone Crabs' ballpark is in Port Charlotte, about 80 miles south of where the Rays play at Tropicana Field. The team had been on the road for two days before returning to host Daytona on Friday.
No one was injured and the gator was removed from the stadium by local county animal control officials, according to Honeywell.
"I got out there, and he's up in the corner -- nobody could get him out of there," Honeywell said. "But that's what we need every now and again -- to see some crazy stuff like this."
So, what does a team of young baseball players do when it has a new pet alligator all to themselves? Selfies!
"I was going to get down there and take a picture, I'm not afraid of them, but I'm not going to antagonize him," Honeywell said. "It's like 800 pounds! I was going to get close with him and take a selfie and someone started freaking out. I thought, 'OK, I'm not going to push the envelope, I'm going to sit here.'"
A good decision, especially for Honeywell, who was scheduled to start for the Stone Crabs later on Friday night, but the temptation to pose with the big animal remained.
"[Charlotte catcher Mike] Marjama was like, 'Somebody get down here and take a selfie!'" Honeywell said of his teammate. "It would be freaking awesome. I thought, 'I'll try it,' and someone came over and said, 'You gotta get out of there.' I was like, 'Boo, whatever.'"
| "He was a big dude, man. He didn't want to be moved for a while. And I wasn't going to be the one to remove him."."
-- Brent Honeywell
Eventually, the gator was removed, which is good news for the visiting Daytona Tortugas, who will occupy the dugout for Friday's game. But the Florida native was in no rush to leave his new hideaway.
"I think they got him, roped up his nose so he couldn't bite anybody. He started thrashing around and going nuts," Honeywell said. "I think they got him and put him back in his pond. It was pretty cool."
An average adult alligator is about 10-13 feet long and weighs around 790 pounds. Honeywell said he guessed the gator was about 10 feet.
"It was tough to say, he's curled up in the corner. The main part of his body was four feet, he was a big dude, man. He didn't want to be moved for a while," Honeywell said. "And I wasn't going to be the one to remove him."
The right-hander and 2014 pick in the Competitive Balance B portion of the Draft usually enjoys seeing the alligators around the complex.
"I thought it was really cool, I'm a big animal guy -- like to hunt and fish -- so I thought it was cool. He was large -- that thing was large. He could have whacked a leg off," Honeywell said. "But they don't walk around the fields -- they kind of hang out in ponds behind the fields -- fields 5 and 4 and 3 -- so the ponds run back behind those other fields. There's a big boy out there, too. He's probably an 11-footer -- he's huge. I go fishing back there and I've seen him pop up."
Will this gator become the Stone Crabs' new good luck charm or rally mascot?
"He could," Honeywell laughed. "If I go out there and have me a good one tonight, I'm going come up with something."