Kevin Cash is not one for team meetings, especially in the midst of a losing streak as the Rays were Sunday morning. So catcher Mike Zunino didn’t really know why the manager was summoning his players to the middle of the large tent that serves as the visiting clubhouse in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I had no idea,” Zunino said. “We’ve got a hurricane coming, I didn’t know if it was scheduling, I didn’t know what it was.”
It was the announcement of a milestone moment in Zunino’s nine-year big-league career — he was chosen an All-Star for the first time, voted by his peers to the American League team, and cheered loudly by his gathered teammates.
“Oh, man, extremely grateful,” Zunino said. “It’s been a long journey, and it’s still going. I’m just very blessed to have a lot of people in my corner that have supported me and kept me going. And very thankful for the Rays organization for continuing to put trust in me and giving me opportunities … and really help me grow as a player.”
Cash, who will manage the American League team July 13 in Denver, had been stumping for Zunino, who leads the Rays and is second among catchers with 18 homers, has the majors’ top OPS (1.189) and slugging percentage (.800) against lefties (minimum 50 at-bats), and earns raves for his handling of pitchers.
“Very deserving,” Cash said. “All-Stars are always special. Looking at ‘Z,’ how his career here in Tampa (Bay) has gone, it’s probably that much more special that he’s just put together just this tremendous first half.”
But Cash was “disappointed” that no other Rays were named, especially injured starter Tyler Glasnow, given the team’s overall success the first half of the season as they are 48-36 after Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Blue Jays and had the best record in the league for more than three weeks.
“You’d like to think we would have more representation,” Cash said. “You understand. You certainly appreciate when the rosters get announced it’s some really good players. But you’re always going to be biased to your guys. And I feel that we have guys that are deserving.”
Specifically Glasnow, who was on track to make the All-Star team, and maybe start, with a 5-2, 2.66 record before sustaining an elbow injury in mid-June — prior to the player voting that stocked most of the pitching staff, with Major League Baseball officials naming the others.
“As far as I’m concerned, Tyler is an All-Star,” Cash said. “I know that he’s not on (the team). But what he’s done in this first half is worthy of being an All-Star.”
Cash picked Cleveland’s Terry Francona, his former manager, mentor and close friend, as a coach on his staff.
Zunino, 30, had much to be excited about, having worked extensively with hitting coach Chad Mottola to rebuild his swing after a disappointing first two seasons with the Rays following his November 2018 acquisition from Seattle.
He’ll get to share the experience with his wife, Alyssa, and kids Rhett and Paisley, and maybe his dad, Greg, a scouting supervisor with the Reds who is slated to work the draft that week.
Cash, Mottola, field coordinator/catching coach Paul Hoover and the rest of the Rays staff will be with him, working the game as a reward for their 2020 World Series appearance.
And Zunino was voted in by players around the league, with 107 votes to 616 for Kansas City’s Salvador Perez. who was elected the starter by the fans.
“That’s the biggest thing, when your peers recognize that and vote you in, I think it goes a long way,” Zunino said. “It’s a real honor. I’m extremely grateful for it. And hearing that it was that way, it does make it even more special.”
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