ST. PETERSBURG — Randy Arozarena has two main reasons to thank the Cardinals during their three-game visit to Tropicana Field that starts Tuesday.
One, for giving him the chance to play in the minors and advance to the majors after signing him in 2016 as a 21-year-old after he defected from Cuba and settled in Mexico.
And two, for trading him in January 2020 to the Rays, where he got more of an opportunity and developed into a fan favorite and All-Star.
“(The Cardinals) gave me my first steps into professional baseball,” Arozarena said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “They gave me the first opportunity to make my major-league debut with them. I’m very happy about that.”
The Rays gave up Matthew Liberatore, their 2018 first-round draft pick and top left-handed pitching prospect; and a minor-league catcher for Arozarena and veteran Jose Martinez in the deal, which included a swap of compensatory draft picks.
Liberatore, who is slated to start Thursday, is 3-6 with a 6.47 ERA in 19 games for the Cardinals while shuttling from Triple-A the past two seasons.
Arozarena has hit .265 with 65 homers, 234 RBIs and an .802 OPS, along with a historic 2020 postseason performance, the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year award, two 20-20 (home runs-stolen bases) seasons (with a third likely) and a 2023 All-Star start on his resume — plus Friday home game seating sections in his name.
Diplomatically, Arozarena said the trade well worked for both teams getting the players they wanted.
But, also: “It was a good opportunity for me to be here. I’ve done well. The last three years have been great for me. And I’m very happy about it.”
Arozarena said he doesn’t keep in much contact with any of the current Cardinals players or staff: “If I see them, I’ll see them. I can’t say I remember all their names.”
Also, Arozarena said facing Liberatore won’t carry any special significance: “He’s just another major-league pitcher now. Good for him that he made it to the major leagues. I’m going to try and stay as positive as I can and hopefully hit a home run or get some hits off of him.”
In a three-game series against St. Louis last year, Arozarena was 3-for-11 with four RBIs.
This will be the second straight year and fifth time overall the Cardinals have played in St. Petersburg, their spring home for 50-plus years until they moved cross-state in 1998 to make room for the Rays. … Zach Eflin, who starts for the Rays Tuesday, has past experience against and much respect for Cardinals star infielders Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt: “They always play hard, and they play the game the right way. Those are the kind of guys that you idolize as position players in the big leagues.”
This will be a week of reunions, as Rays pitchers Kevin Kelly and Aaron Civale previously were with Cleveland, which visits over the weekend. ... The Rays on Friday will host a Stuff the Bus school supply donation drive benefiting the Hillsborough and Pinellas education foundations. Fans donating school supplies outside of Gates 1 and 4 from 3-7 p.m. will get a voucher (one per household) for two tickets to a regular-season home game. ... Friday also features a postgame concert by country singer Lee Brice.
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