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Rays Journal: Ryne Stanek’s Kansas City homecoming was a long time coming

Pitching in Kauffman Stadium fulfilled a dream for the reliever who grew up in the area. Also, details on Wednesday’s DH.
Rays opener Ryne Stanek made a triumphant return to his hometown on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Rays opener Ryne Stanek made a triumphant return to his hometown on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Published May 1, 2019
Updated May 1, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ryne Stanek waited a long time to live the dream of pitching at home in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium as a big-leaguer.

Through the years he spent going to Royals games as a kid, sitting behind the home dugout. Playing in a couple of all-star type games there as a high-schooler. During his initial slow climb through the minors after the Rays made him their 2013 first-round pick.

And then during his first two up-and-down seasons in the majors when, through some unfortunate timing, he was back in the minors when the Rays made their lone visits in 2017 and 2018.

RELATED STORY: Rays take first game of series in Kansas City

So when he finally got to pitch there Monday, and pitch well, as the opener in the Rays’ 8-5 victory, with his parents, grandparents, three closest buddies and dozens of other relatives and friends in the stands, it turned out to be quite the occasion.

“I was actually more excited than I thought I would be,’’ Stanek said. “I played there a couple times in an all-star showcase. I was like, ‘Okay, it’s a stadium I’ve been to before, I should feel really comfortable.’

"But it was a little different. I guess I was a little excited because I knew everybody was there. I don’t know, it was one of those moments where you feel pretty cool."

There were a few memorable moments such as going over to his parents house (and seeing his dog) the morning of a game, riding in on the team bus through familiar neighborhoods, looking up at the seats where he and his buddies would watch from.

Stanek was kind of a big deal pitching for Blue Valley High on the Kansas side, using a 95 mph fastball to post some dominant numbers, 5-0, 0.72 with 71 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. He led the Tigers to a state championship and was named the Kansas City Star’s All-Metro player of the year.

“He was pretty overpowering with his fastball but he also had a good slider, and that combination made him pretty unhittable,’’ former Blue Valley coach and current athletic director Matt Ortman said. “I would definitely categorize it as a men amongst boys deal.’’

Stanek had a chance to go pro out of high school as a 2010 third-round pick by the Mariners, but when they didn’t meet the price he’d told them it would take, he happily went off to play college ball at Arkansas. That worked out pretty well, as he moved up to being the 29th overall pick and signed for $1,758,300.

“I guess they expected me to cave and I was like, No, I’m good. I’m just going to go to school,’’ Stanek said. “I can’t complain about any decision I made. Could my career have been different? Maybe. But I like my life. I don’t regret much in my life. Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen. It is what it is.’’

A Tuesday rainout, and an earlier-than-planned Wednesday DH

The game slated for Tuesday night between the Rays and Royals was called off mid-afternoon as a result of day-long rain with heavier showers to come. The game slated for Wednesday night was also in jeopardy due to a forecast for more rain, so it was moved up. As a result, the teams will try to split the difference and play a doubleheader on Wednesday starting at 1:15 Tampa Bay time, with the second game starting 45 minutes after conclusion of the first.

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“It makes a lot of sense given what the weather looks like at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock (Wednesday) night,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I think both teams would do anything to avoid playing on a mutual off-day (with the Rays having to make a return trip).’’

The Rays will use Stanek as the opener for the first game, with lefty Jalen Beeks the likely candidate to the work bulk innings, and ace Blake Snell, who was to start Tuesday, in the second game. The strategy seemed no more complex than not wanting to have Snell rushing to be ready for the early start.

They also get to add a 26th man for the second game, and will add an extra arm by bringing back Austin Pruitt. The Royals are planning to use Tuesday starter Jakob Junis in the first game and call-up Glenn Sparkman in the second.

Miscellany

* With Brandon and Nate Lowe starting Monday, it was the first time two Rays players with the same last name were in the lineup since May 6, 2011, when Dan and Eliot Johnson faced the Orioles. The only other such pairings were Jose and Ozzie Guillen in 2000 and Bobby and Jason Smith in 2002.

* First baseman Ji-Man Choi got an extensive workout Monday in his first game in more than a week by getting on base three times, and said afterward he felt good, with no issues from the left calf tightness which sidelined him.

* Tuesday’s lineup had Nate Lowe starting at first base in his second big-league game, with Choi at DH.