ST. PETERSBURG — Mitch Lukevics saw it from the beginning.
Willy Adames was 18, a Class A shortstop prospect acquired from Detroit in a July 2014 three-team, five-player deal headlined by the trade of David Price, getting settled into the Rays organization.
“It didn’t take long after to know this guy was the ‘Pied Piper,’ ” said Lukevics, the Rays’ long-time farm director and now senior advisor. “Everybody gravitated toward him. Everybody followed Willy Adames. Everybody wanted to be like Willy. He had that charisma. He was bilingual. There wasn’t a bad day in Willy’s young life, and that’s hard to do when you’re a minor-leaguer because there’s streaks and slumps. ...
“He had those wonderful intangibles. Sure, he had some skill when he came to us, but he was coachable. His attitude is at the top of the all-time list. His aptitude. He wanted to learn how to play and get better, and that separated him. And he worked his tail off to become a really good big-league shortstop.”
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Rays players saw it when they first teamed with Adames in the minors, in spring training and when he debuted 2018.
“His skill set kind of speaks for himself, and he’s a great player,” said veteran reliever Andrew Kittredge. “But beyond that, he’s just one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. He’s just always got a smile on his face. What he brings to the clubhouse each and every day, you can’t really replace it. It’s infectious.”
Veteran outfielder Kevin Kiermaier went from curious to quickly impressed.
“It was like, ‘Oh, there’s the kid we traded Price for, let’s see what he’s about,’” Kiermaier said. “Just his overall demeanor, you just knew like, ‘All right, this guy, he’s going to play for the next 10-15 years, and he’s just going to light up a clubhouse every day with his attitude.’
“Then I really started to get to know him. He’s just a very refreshing player. His outlook on life, the game and how much fun and energy he had in here, even through the ups and downs. I felt like I could always count on Willy to have fun with every day, whether he was playing good or bad. He always put the team first and figured out a way just to have fun. You need those guys.”
And they certainly noticed when he was gone, shipped out in May 2021 to the Brewers to clear an eventual spot for Wander Franco, and for needed pitching help in now injured JP Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.
“Even when he was going through struggles, that guy came in every day with a smile, pumping everybody up, talking about other people,” reliever Jalen Beeks said. “He’s one of the ideal teammates you want to have and I think we miss him.”
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Added Kiermaier: “When he was traded, it was a tough day for all of us to get over that. But to watch him have the success he’s had in Milwaukee, he carried that team last year at times, and he’s certainly carried us at times as well, I’m so happy for him. He seems to love it there. … He’s just such an easy guy to root for.”
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Rays infield/third base coach Rodney Linares and manager Kevin Cash saw it when they watched Adames emerge as one of their key players.
“When I think of Willy, I think of a leader,” Linares said. “Somebody that can change the culture in a clubhouse and change the mood definitely for everybody. He’s one of those guys that walks into a room and just lights it up, his personality, his smile, his charisma. And he’s also a good player, so that helps. I think the world of the kid, and I’m glad he’s doing well.”
Linares said it also was a huge benefit for Adames, a native of the Dominican Republic, to learn as a young minor-leaguer to speak English. “100 percent,’’ Linares said. “He can communicate with everybody. You can be the best player out there, but if you can’t have a conversation with somebody it’s going to be really tough. … I think that’s one of the biggest things with him, he invested his time in people.”
Said Cash: “Every manager, every coach, every player, still to this day, I don’t know anybody that did not like Willy. And that’s saying something in today’s world.”
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Pirates manager Derek Shelton, a former Rays coach, saw it when they played the Brewers a few weeks after the trade.
“He changed the entire dynamic of their club,” Shelton said. “When they got him, they became a different club. It was just obvious. The impact he had offensively, defensively and just in their clubhouse. Knowing Willy a little bit from the time in Tampa Bay, they were a club that was really good and then they got really unified really fast. And I think a lot of it had to do with Willy being there.
“They were solidified with him playing shortstop, and he swung the bat really well once he got there, but just their whole vibe and their whole energy changed. I would attribute it a lot to how he went about it.”
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Brewers general manager Matt Arnold saw it shortly after Adames joined the team, and sees it every day since.
“He’s become the heartbeat of our clubhouse,” said Arnold, a Rays executive from 2007-15. “He brings the energy every day, as much as you could ever hope for. And when you have a guy like that around, even when things aren’t going well, you know you have a guy that’ll pick you up. ...
“I’ve known him a long time. It’s not a surprise that he’s evolved into this kind of leader, just the type of person he has been since he was a kid. So it’s great to see him continue to grow and be a real leader in this franchise. … He’s a joy to have around.”
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