ST. PETERSBURG — There are no cheap seats when Randy Arozarena is in the ballpark.
He’s posing for pictures while waiting in the on-deck circle, he’s doing his crossed-arms pose in leftfield, he’s basking in the MVP chant of nearby fans while stopping for a postgame television interview. This is his playground, and everyone at Tropicana Field is invited to join in the fun.
“He’s got the leftfield fans going crazy out there,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Just the personality, the character, the way he embraces his role on this team, maybe his role in this community with how the fan base has grown to love him.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch Randy.”
It certainly was on opening day, when the Rays beat the Tigers 4-0 on Thursday and Arozarena got his first RBI of the season on a sixth-inning single. Obviously, that’s the sort of thing he’s paid to do. But Arozarena seems intent on expanding his job description.
He’s the guy who mugged for the camera during the blinking lights and smoke-machine introductions before the game. He’s the guy who acknowledged the dancing security guard between innings in leftfield. He’s the guy who got centerfielder Jose Siri and rightfielder Manuel Margot to do the crossed-arms pose behind second base after the game’s final out.
“No, that was not planned,” Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “You know how Randy is. That just happens.”
There has always been a theatrical bent to Arozarena’s game from the moment he grabbed America’s attention with 10 home runs in 18 games during Tampa Bay’s extended run in the 2020 playoffs. A season later, he won the AL rookie of the year award and stole home while hitting .333 in a playoff series against Boston.
And now, at age 28, Arozarena is getting even friskier. His smile is wider, his antics more exaggerated. He was the breakout star for Mexico during the World Baseball Classic, wearing cowboy boots while shagging fly balls and a sombrero while clowning around in the dugout. Not to mention the .900 slugging percentage and gave-saving defensive plays in leftfield.
“No one has as much fun as he does,” shortstop Wander Franco said through Navarro. “You’re supposed to have fun when you play this game.”
We’ve seen stars here before, and we’ve seen class clowns. But I’m not sure the Rays have ever had a player with the combination of talent and charisma that Arozarena wields. Carl Crawford was soft-spoken in crowds. Evan Longoria defined stoic. Kevin Kiermaier was self-reflective. David Price could be haughty.
Not Arozarena. He’s a party in cleats. He bounces through the clubhouse looking for fist pumps and frivolity. He has the exuberance of a cheerleader and the skills of a superstar. And those qualities, by the way, go hand in hand.
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“I think his personality has come out in the last year, especially after the Classic,” said bench coach Rodney Linares. “Knowing that people were watching him, he just ran with it. He’s a fun guy to be around, a fun guy in the clubhouse. He keeps everyone on their toes. And when he’s out on the field, he’s like a little dynamo. You never know what’s going to happen.
“When Randy is having fun, we’re usually winning games. So, you know, let him have his fun.”
The trick is keeping that energy and enthusiasm at a high level all season. While he’s been a megastar on the postseason stage, Arozarena has had stretches during the regular season when his bat has gone quiet and his personality has been put on pause.
You can’t possibly expect him to maintain a .900 slugging percentage across 162 games, but the Rays say Arozarena has recognized the need to be better prepared for the grind of a six-month regular season.
“I think in the Classic, I prepared well in the offseason and that helped me perform well,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “With all the work that I do, as long as I stay positive, I think it’s going to help me. I know it’s a long season, but as long as I stick to my routines and my training and my work, I think I’m going to be OK.”
It’s a little mind-blowing to think a player coming off back-to-back 20/20 seasons may have only scratched the surface of his potential, but that seems to be the case with Arozarena. After his World Baseball Classic performance, the sportsbook betonline.ag readjusted his odds for winning the American League MVP award from 100-1 to 33-1.
So, are you having fun, Randy?
“We’re supposed to have (fun) in this game. We’re supposed to appreciate this game,” Arozarena said. “So if (fans) are having fun, I’m having fun.”
Contact John Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Romano_TBTimes.
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