Away from the ballpark, Luke Scott pretty much goes his own way -- a quick glance at his "Wolverine" look will tell you that -- and the Rays like the way he's going this season.

"I call it my winter coat," Tampa Bay's new full-time designated hitter said of his beard, similar to Hugh Jackman's character in the X-Men series. "In the offseason I wear it because I do a lot of hunting, plus I don't like to shave all the time. But for the past three or four years, I've been shaving the little chin part because a couple of friends mentioned that I should try it and see how it goes."

He played all three outfield positions and first base for the Astros and Orioles at some point during his previous seven Major League seasons before being released by Baltimore on Dec. 12, 2011.

The Rays signed him one month later despite right shoulder surgery in July that cost Scott the second half of the 2011 season. He has rewarded them by being among the team's leaders in batting average, slugging and on-base percentages, doubles, home runs and RBIs.

"There's a lot of good things happening," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "A lot of it is about opportunity, too. We've had a lot of guys out on base in front of him, and Luke likes those moments. Luke's a really bright hitter. He has a great understanding of his swing and how to go about his business. He's really kind of a technician at the plate."

Scott started the season "a little toastier than you would think, coming off the injury," Maddon said. "That was a big concern. He had to work through Spring Training with getting his shoulder rehabbed. ... But he kept getting stronger, kept getting stronger. So, now I'm starting to see him get to the point where I'm not worried about it at all."

Having an in-season beard is a new experience for Scott.

"In Baltimore we had a clean-shaven policy," he said. "It was Mickey Mouse, but I get to keep it here."

The beard is one of the things that sets the wayward Scott apart from more conventional ballplayers. He hunts white-tail deer, red stag, elk, wild boar and similar game for more than just sport.

"I take the meat home and eat everything I shoot," he said. "I definitely keep all my trophies. I have plenty of wall space."

There's also Scott's penchant for speaking his mind. He has created a few minor firestorms with his comments on politics, race, taxes and the Second Amendment.

"I have my freedom of speech and (others) have theirs," he said. "Isn't that what it means to be an American? Is that not our First Amendment right? I'm a big believer in my constitutional rights. I think we all should be. That's what makes us different from the rest of the world. That's what makes this the greatest place to live."

Scott's father David taught him to hunt and to live off the land.

"When I was growing up we didn't have much," he said. "We'd grow our own food, harvest off the land, I like it that way. It's more natural."

David was a brick mason. Luke worked for him.

"He wanted me to experience what it's like to get up early in the morning and work in the hot sun all day, every day, come home tired.

"He taught me, 'If you don't want to do this for a living, if you want to do what you want to do, chase after it and apply these principles, these godly principles: hard work, dedication, honesty, integrity, character, accountability, responsibility. Put these things into practice, and they'll take you to where you want to go."

His mother Jennifer worked two jobs as a bartender and waitress.

"My mom taught me the same things that my dad taught me," Scott said. "She always said, 'There's a lot of jerks in the world, don't be another one.'"

Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.