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For Rays’ Josh Fleming, pitching in Kansas City will be family affair

The St. Louis-area native will have more than 40 relatives and friends watching as he faces the Royals tonight.
Rays starter Josh Fleming will pitch tonight against the Royals, who had heavy interest in him before the 2017 draft.
Rays starter Josh Fleming will pitch tonight against the Royals, who had heavy interest in him before the 2017 draft. [ STEVE NESIUS | AP ]
Published Apr. 19
Updated Apr. 19

Though Josh Fleming grew up in the St. Louis area, Kansas City will feel a bit like home tonight when he starts for the Rays against the Royals, with more than 40 relatives and friends in the stands.

That will include his older brother, Zach, who unlike other family members hasn’t seen Josh pitch in the majors, as he made his debut during the pandemic last year for the Rays.

“That’s going to be a very, very special moment,” Josh said.

And well-timed, as Zach got married last week to Megann Whitaker. Since Josh wasn’t able to attend, the chance to watch him pitch at Kauffman Stadium will be kind of a delayed wedding present.

“Not bad,” said Josh, who was called up last week to replace an injured Chris Archer in the Rays rotation.

Also on hand will be 25 or so of Josh’s friends and former high school and college teammates, many of whom haven’t seen him pitch in person since he was at Class A Bowling Green (Ky.) in 2018.

“I’ve had a pretty good strong core group of friends throughout my whole life,” he said. “For them to make the road trip to watch me throw, it’s just awesome. Very, very cool.”

Josh, 24, has had a lot of support.

Though fans weren’t allowed in Tropicana Field last season, his parents and then-girlfriend (now wife) Katie O’Toole flew down, and three buddies drove 16 hours to watch his Aug. 23 debut on TV from Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill across the street. A small group of family and friends, including his grandparents, came to the World Series in Texas.

Josh never attended a game in Kansas City, about a 3 1/2-hour drive from St. Louis, but was invited to a workout there ahead of the 2017 draft by the Royals, who didn’t act quick enough as the Rays took him in the fifth round out of Division III Webster University.

“I know (the Royals) were high on me,” he said. “I think there was a chance potentially in the third or fourth round that they were going to take me, but they didn’t. Which I’m not, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder or anything because they didn’t draft me. You know, it is what it is. I’m glad to be a Tampa Bay Ray, obviously. And I’m just excited to face them.”

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