ST. PETERSBURG — Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena insisted he never made much of winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Not when he found out after his record-smashing run through the 2020 postseason that he still had retained rookie eligibility for 2021.
Nor when he heard growing chatter from reporters and coaches about his chances, and even that he was the favorite.
And just a little as he capped an impressive first full big-league season by joining the 20-homer, 20-steal club.
“I thought maybe I had a chance to be the Rookie of the Year,” Arozarena said. “It wasn’t really a goal. I just wanted to go out there and put up the numbers and play the game like I normally do and continue to have fun.”
Which brought us to Monday evening.
Arozarena sat on a couch in his St. Petersburg home in front of a laptop with his wife, Cenelia Pinedo Blanco; daughters Alaia and Luna; and brother, Raiko, the backup goalie for the Rowdies soccer team, to join the MLB Network show announcing the award.
“Once we got online … right before the interview, I think that’s when I got a little bit more nervous,” Arozarena said.
And moments later, quite excited, as he was announced as the winner.
“I think I was the one that screamed the loudest,” Arozarena said. “I think I was the most excited.
“My family, they’ve been here since Day 1. They suffer with me; they do well with me. So I’m very happy and honored to have gotten the Rookie of the Year and very happy to have the support from my family next to me.”
Arozarena was a relatively easy winner, getting 124 points and 22 of the 30 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who cast ballots — two from each AL city — before the playoffs.
Astros pitcher Luis Garcia was a distant second with 63 points, and Rays shortstop Wander Franco, whose chances were limited by playing only 70 games, was third with 30, with both getting two first-place votes. Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan got one second-place vote.
Reds second baseman Jonathan India won NL Rookie of the Year honors, beating out Marlins left-handed pitcher Trevor Rogers and Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson.
Arozarena is the fourth Ray to win rookie honors in the last 14 years, joining third baseman Evan Longoria (2008), pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (2011) and outfielder Wil Myers (2013).
“I know what it takes to get this award,” said Arozarena via team translator Manny Navarro. “I know the hard work that I put in for these achievements that I’ve had this year. And I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to push that for the future to come.”
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Arozarena, 26, joined the Rays in January 2020, acquired in a trade from the Cardinals, with whom he signed and made his big-league debut in 2019, after playing in Mexico following his escape from Cuba on a small boat in 2015. (He and his wife and daughters wore T-shirts in support of the Cuban people for Monday’s interviews, and he encouraged them to continue to remain positive and pursue their dreams as he did.)
“I think it’s definitely a victory,” he said, “what I’ve been able to do and the sacrifices I had to go through in order to be in the position that I’m in.”
Arozarena made his Rays debut a month into the delayed and abbreviated 2020 season, having been sidelined by COVID-19 since the start of training camp in July. Then he made a name for himself with a dazzling October performance, hitting .377 with 10 homers and a 1.273 OPS in 20 postseason games, which put the pressure on for him to deliver an encore.
Though he had played in 42 regular-season and 25 postseason games between the Rays and the Cardinals in 2019-20, Arozarena — based on Major League Baseball qualifying standards adjusted for the shortened season of at-bats and days on the active roster — he retained rookie eligibility.
And he made the most of it, hitting a major-league rookie best .274 with 20 homers, 69 RBIs, 94 runs scored, 32 doubles, 20 steals and an .815 OPS, logging five assists, making one error and getting a WAR rating of 4.2, according to baseball-reference.com.
He was a finalist for Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. And he is just the 11th rookie (since the classification was established in 1958) to have a 20-20 season, which was the stat he was most proud of.
“It’s the MLB rules,” he said. “I played in Mexico, I played many games. I don’t play or feel like I am a rookie even though I’m still considered a rookie. They allowed me to be part of the (vote) and I won the prize.
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