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For Rays’ Mike Zunino, getting to play family guy offsets lack of games

Rays Tales | Being home with a newborn and a 1-year-old has been a blessing as he waits for the season to start.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino has been able to spend more time with his family including son 1-year-old son Rhett, wife Alyssa and newborn daughter Paisley
Rays catcher Mike Zunino has been able to spend more time with his family including son 1-year-old son Rhett, wife Alyssa and newborn daughter Paisley [ Courtesy Zunino family ]
Published May 9, 2020
Updated May 10, 2020

Mike Zunino, of course, would like to be playing baseball, watching Rays teammates Austin Meadows taking swings and Charlie Morton making pitches.

But the alternative hasn’t been that bad, as he’s been able to spend the shutdown with wife Alyssa and their growing family. On March 28, daughter Paisley Grace joined son Rhett Michael, born 11 ¼ months earlier.

“It’s been a blessing," Zunino said Friday in a Zoom media call. “To be able to spend this time with them. I was able to see a lot of things I had prepared myself not to. Rhett’s walking now, I was able see him take his first steps. … I was able to make it and not be late or miss the birth of Paisley.

“Just being able to spend this time in raising our kids with Alyssa has been great. ... So those are the silver linings that I’m looking at."

Related: Rays minor-leaguer Blake Bivens shares details of family tragedy

While some Rays players and staff acknowledge they are annoying their own wives by being stir crazy and antsy to get going, Zunino said Alyssa is glad to have the help around their Gainesville home.

“Yeah, I think so, at least," Zunino said. “It’s one of those things, it’s been tougher. Switching from zone to man-to-man has been a little bit different. The first couple days took a lot of adjusting.

“But I give her all the credit in the world. She does this while we’re on the road, so it’s definitely something. They’re the unsung heroes. They’re able to go and keep the house going and when we come back, make it seem like we never missed anything."

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino smiles while talking taking his position behind home plate last season at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino smiles while talking taking his position behind home plate last season at Tropicana Field. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Zunino said he hasn’t gotten much more information than what others have read and heard about Major League Baseball preparing a best-case plan to open camps in mid-June for an abbreviated second “spring” training and to start playing, without fans, in early July. That plan is reportedly going to be presented this week to the players union for negotiation.

“The biggest thing we’ve heard is just continue to stay ready," he said. “Realistically, the biggest thing is to keep the body in shape and then hopefully we get a date here soon when we can get cranking in the sense of baseball terms."

A three-weeks-or-so re-start camp, a condensed and shortened season, expanded rosters, adjusted roles, potentially experimental rules and empty stadiums will all make the 2020 season — if there is one — even more challenging.

Zunino offers some pretty good reasons why the Rays should be able to handle it:

The youth and hunger of the players after last year’s playoff loss. The depth of talent throughout the organization that is likely to come into play. And the smarts and creativity of his bosses to figure out the best ways to address and adjust to the circumstances, whatever they are.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino said on a Zoom call he didn't know yet if son Rhett was a righty or a lefty.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino said on a Zoom call he didn't know yet if son Rhett was a righty or a lefty. [ MARC TOPKIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

“That’s the one thing that we’ve all said, especially as players, that we’re going to have to adapt, we’re going to have to be willing to adapt," he said. “When you start talking organizations that are maybe outside-the-box thinkers, I think Tampa Bay could be put up there at the top. We’ve done some crazy things before, whether it’s moving a pitcher to first base or constructing a lineup. And I think that sort of allows us to come into this and it helps a little bit.

“That’s all going to be part of the learning experience of a condensed season, but with this organization we’re going be able to make some things happen that may be a little bit out of the box but help us win ballgames."

Snell, Inc.

Watching pitcher Blake Snell’s run to the championship of the players’ MLB The Show video game tournament, you couldn’t miss the logo with an intertwined C and G posted prominently on the wall of his gaming room. Snell said it was for “my little gaming thing I’ve been making up called Classic Gaming," and now we know what he means. Snell on Friday launched his own website, snellzilla.com, selling T-shirts and hoodies featuring that phrase or his “I need it so bad” catchphrase, plus links to his social media and gaming sites, where he uses the name Classically Famous. Snell said he made the site to further connect with fans, noting they “have been asking for some merch, and it was time to deliver!," and that he’ll be adding more items, plus additional “content from the baseball & gaming world, and all sorts of updates from the Zilla world."

Rays rumblings

In following Bucs tight end Cameron Brate on Lightning forward Alex Killorn’s Dock Talk Instagram show, centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier joked about being in the company of two Harvard products: “For all you viewers out there, I’m way smarter than both of these Harvard guys. I went to junior college and I could kill these guys in Jeopardy." …. Kiermaier also raved about Ji-Man Choi being the funniest and most entertaining Ray on and off the field: “Ji-Man might not appreciate me saying this, but he just looks like a cute, fat, little baby trapped in a 28-year-old’s body. I love him. He’s great for the team. Always keeping everyone happy.'' ... Fox Sports Sun on Monday is replaying Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS win over Boston, at noon, 7 p.m., and midnight, and the famous Game 162 of the 2011 season on Friday at 7 p.m. and midnight. … In a recent 12-day period, four former Devil Rays scouts passed away, Bart Johnson, George Zuraw, Matt Keough and the always colorful Rudy Santin, whose expense accounts were said to be among the world’s finest examples of creative writing. … In the Strat-O-Matic season simulation, the Rays were 23-17 through Friday, second in the AL East. … The team launched its annual incentive-based Reading with the Rays program, with game cards available at raysbaseball.com/reading and game tickets among the prizes. … The Rays have kept the Trop and the Port Charlotte complex closed to players, but some teams have found gray areas and allowed players in, several Rangers taking batting practice at new Globe Life Field last week, and a half-dozen Yankees reporting to Steinbrenner Field. … Cutting the draft to five rounds to save money now seems short-sighted for the future given it is still a cost effective way to acquire talent. … Snell was the only Ray to make ESPN’s 28-man “dream team” of U.S. players. …. Yankees president Randy Levine continues to push hard for fans to be allowed into games in the Bronx at some point this season with the proper precautions, noting “it would be pretty cool to have some Yankee masks and gloves out there.”