ST. PETERSBURG — His career is just getting started. It’s his legend that is already secured.
That’s just the way it goes when you bust through the doors of a ballpark like a character in an old west saloon.
Randy Arozarena attacked this spring’s World Baseball Classic in boots and a sombrero, while armed with a gunslinger’s swagger and a mile-wide grin that let everyone know they were welcome to join him in the fun.
“He definitely likes to put on a show,” Rays teammate Isaac Paredes said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think those spectacular moments are meant for him.”
So maybe you missed his record-setting 2020 postseason, when he hit more October home runs than any player before him. And maybe you weren’t paying attention when he won the Rookie of the Year award in 2021 or electrified Tropicana Field with the first straight steal of home in a playoff game since Jackie Robinson. Maybe you had somehow missed or forgotten a scrapbook’s worth of headlines that, in retrospect, were mere appetizers.
Because what Arozarena, 28, did while playing for Mexico in the WBC was as close to magic as it gets on a baseball diamond.
It wasn’t just the .607 on-base percentage or .900 slugging percentage, although those are crazy numbers in a worldwide tournament. And it wasn’t just the home run-robbing catch he made against Japan in the semifinals or his ground-swallowing dash into the gap for a clutch catch against Puerto Rico that his manager called the most important play in the history of Mexican sports.
It was also the defiant stare after the play at the wall. It was the coolness of his arms-crossed celebration. It was the boots he started wearing on the field in Tampa Bay in 2020, and the sombrero he added this month.
“He’s had a pretty special month. Good for Randy, good for baseball,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The joy that he brings, the style that he plays — we’re fortunate to see it firsthand for the last couple of seasons. Now, the world got to see it.”
Particularly in Mexico, where Arozarena’s career began in earnest after escaping Cuba on a raft. He’s chosen to make his home there, and he repaid his adopted country by helping to carry it through the WBC farther than most expected.
“I think it’s something Mexico’s going to remember for the rest of its history,” Rays and Team Mexico teammate Jonathan Aranda said through Navarro. “Maybe the next generation will be wearing boots and hats on the field.”
In a sport that reveres numbers and encyclopedias, Arozarena has captured our attention with moments and memories. And he is well aware of the viral quality of his temperament and flamboyance.
“Baseball in general is a negative game. When it comes to numbers, you probably do more negative things than positive,” Arozarena said through Rays manager of communications Elvis Martinez. “So when you do the positive ones, you want to enjoy it. I really believe in that. And I give 100 percent, play like I’m still in Little League. It’s a business, but I enjoy it like I’m still in Little League.”
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There is truth in that observation that may be deeper than Arozarena intended. What he did in the 2020 and 2021 postseasons, and what he did for Mexico this month, shine a light on what he has not yet done in the regular season in Tampa Bay.
Oh, he’s been a fine player. No doubt about that. His combined WAR of 6.9 over the past two years places him 14th among all major-league outfielders. That’s good. That’s very good. But it merely scratches the surface of what we’ve seen when the stakes get raised.
It’s unrealistic to think Arozarena could maintain the same level of exuberance and excellence through an entire 162-game season, but it’s not out of line to wonder if he doesn’t sometimes coast or lose focus in lesser games with smaller crowds.
“Randy has said everything right this spring … his mindset has matured,” Cash said. “He has really come in committed to maybe the finer things in his game. Getting better jumps ion the outfield, better reads on the bases, having a little better approach of what a pitcher is trying to do. It certainly looked like he played that way at the WBC. And it’s exciting.
“Guys are not going to do it at that that pace (all the time). They just don’t. But the more consistency he can find, we all know he’s been a special player and he can be even that much more.”
The legend of Randy Arozarena is secure. It’s fair to say 99 percent of the players who put on the uniform will never have as many memorable moments as Arozarena has already enjoyed.
But what’s truly exciting?
The idea that there is even more to come.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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