ATLANTA — A moment that was undistinguished to most stood out as the clear highlight for the Rays contingent at the recent All-Star Game.
With one out in the seventh inning Tuesday in Denver, Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge threw a pitch to Rays catcher Mike Zunino that was hit on the ground to Rays third baseman Joey Wendle, who made a nifty pick up and play. All with Rays manager Kevin Cash and his coaches running the show from the dugout.
“Seeing all three of us on the field at the same time, Joey making a play behind Kitt, it was pretty cool,” Zunino said. “I know we all felt proud to represent the organization.’'
“To me,” Wendle said, “that was the most special part.”
There’s only been a handful of times when the Rays have had three players in an All-Star Game. The only bigger display of the brand was in 2010, when Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and David Price were in the AL starting lineup.
There were other highlights Tuesday. Zunino homered in the sixth, just the second All-Star homer in Rays history (Crawford hit one in 2007), and threw out a runner at second. Kittredge worked a 1-2-3 seventh on nine pitches. Wendle rapped a single in the eighth.
“They all kind of showed out, did their thing and showed why they were there,” Cash said. “Zunino’s power, Joey’s great defense and finding a way to get a hit, and Kitt being as efficient as possible.”
Said Wendle: “I think if you were wondering anything about the guys from the Rays who made the All-Star team, watching the game, you would have found out a lot about them.”
Cash isn’t one for team meetings, or long speeches.
So he arranged for some help for his Monday address to the American League team, bringing in Domingo Ayala, the funny and quite popular host of a series of baseball-themed YouTube comedy videos, and turning him loose on the group.
After saying he appreciated the opportunity to attend “the 2021 Shohei Ohtani Game,” and joking how the Angels star got “lucky” hitting 33 homers, Ayala turned his attention to Cash, telling the group he was brought in to pitch, hit and manage. “So sit back,” he said to Cash, “I watched (World Series) Game 6, and, uh, we can give you a break, okay?”
The players and staff roared, and Ayala took off from there, zinging much of the group for about 10 minutes. “They were rolling laughing,” Cash said. “It was great.”
Cash knew of Ayala from watching his videos on his YouTube channel — which has 200,000-plus subscribers — and after deciding to bring him in, found out there was a Rays connection. Manny Navarro, the Rays’ Spanish language interpreter and batting practice pitcher, worked with Ayala (real name, Bryan Resnick) at a California junior college years ago, had appeared in one of Ayala’s videos and, most importantly, had stayed in touch.
Cash had a few special moments as well, relishing how excited his kids — teenage daughters Camden and Ella, and 8-year-old J.D. — were to be on the field for the home run derby and meet the other All-Stars. “Coolest thing ever,” he said.
And, more personally for Cash, getting to meet his baseball idol, Ken Griffey Jr. “He was kind of the Michael Jordan of baseball when I was growing up,” Cash said.
Change of plans
Kittredge knew something was up when he saw Cash’s name pop up on his phone just after ordering dinner Monday night at the Disney Rainforest Café: he thought he was being traded.
Instead Cash was calling to say they needed to add a couple replacement pitchers to the AL team and Kittredge was being invited. Kittredge said he needed a minute to make sure it was okay with his wife, Tobey, that they abandon their planned vacation with their son, Brooks. (It was.) Then he asked Cash if they could finish dinner, which they did, then headed home to get ready for a Tuesday morning flight.
Kittredge said he had a simple goal:” “Don’t embarrass yourself” and get taken out during the inning. No worries as he set down Omar Narvaez, Chris Taylor (on the grounder to Wendle), Ozzie Albies.
In addition to his jersey, some autographs and other All-Star swag, Kittredge also got one of the absolute best souvenirs: The ball he used to throw all nine pitches, as it stayed in play. “Definitely brought back some cool things,” Kittredge said.
Home run highlight
Zunino didn’t get the ball from his home run to right off Taijuan Walker, but said that was okay as it likely would have ended up in 2-year-old son Rhett’s bucket of balls anyway.
“I still don’t think it’s sunk in completely yet,” Zunino said Friday. “Just one of those where it was a surreal moment.” Plus, the reception in the dugout from Cash, the rest of the Rays contingent and the other AL stars was plenty good enough. “To just see that reaction was pretty cool,” Zunino said.
Modest exceptions exceeded
Wendle, who was added to the team the Friday before the game, had modest expectations, even telling Cash he’d understand if he didn’t play.
“My main goal was just to go out there and have fun and just really enjoy it,” he said. “It was fun to have gotten a hit, and to have made a good play. But that wasn’t my goal. My goal was just to enjoy it. And kind of soak it all in.”
And that he did, acknowledging afterward the whole experience — including walking the red carpet with his wife, Lindsey, and sons Jack and Luke — was a good time.
“I don’t really like attention or things I’m not familiar with, and the All-Star Game involves a lot of both of them,” Wendle said. “But I had a lot of fun.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.