The place MLB breakout postseason star Randy Arozarena got here from

SAN DIEGO — It was a 12 months in the past that Randy Arozarena made information for all of the flawed causes. It was Arozarena who live-streamed Cardinals supervisor Mike Shildt’s profanity-laced postgame discuss after St. Louis eradicated the Braves within the Nationwide League Division Sequence. It went viral, and Arozarena was ashamed.

Quick-forward to the current, and Arozarena is making MLB information this October along with his bat as an alternative of his telephone. After a torrid stretch wherein Arozarena was 12-for-20 within the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first 5 postseason video games — together with residence runs in every of the primary three video games in opposition to the Yankees within the ALDS — teammate Tyler Glasnow proclaimed him “the very best participant on earth” final week.

It is tough to argue that time after Arozarena once more got here by way of in Recreation 1 of the ALCS in opposition to the Houston Astros, blasting a laser-like solo shot to straightaway middle discipline within the fourth inning to erase a one-run deficit. The Rays went on to win the opening game 2-1.

“I feel everyone seems to be simply in awe when he steps into the field,” catcher Mike Zunino mentioned. “The ability surge actually ignites our offense. The sky is the restrict with him. It is actually superb what he can do in opposition to the very best arms within the sport.”

Arozarena’s 4 postseason residence runs put him in elite Cuban firm. He joins Tony Perez, Jose Canseco and Kendrys Morales with probably the most postseason residence runs by a Cuban-born participant. Keep in mind: He is nonetheless technically a rookie.

Rays supervisor Kevin Money is aware of a very good factor when he sees one, and that is why Arozarena has been in a key spot within the lineup since he was activated in early August after getting back from the COVID-19 record.

“I do not know if I can,” supervisor Kevin Money mentioned when requested after Sunday’s victory to explain what Arozarena is doing this postseason. “I do not know if I wish to get in the way in which proper now. He does not have any familiarity, does not know these guys he is going through. He is timed up. For a man who swings as aggressively as he does, Randy’s simply been as vivid as any spot or as any participant within the postseason.”

Like so many on this Rays roster, Arozarena matches in completely as somebody who got here from one other group that believed it will be higher off with out him. His is a narrative not unusual to most of the Cuban-born gamers now in Main League Baseball. It is a story that features a covert and extremely harmful journey and the will to play baseball on the highest degree doable. Arozarena has mentioned that he escaped Cuba underneath the duvet of evening on a ship, heading throughout the 120 or so miles from the westernmost level in Cuba to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

Leonys Martin, 32, is from an earlier period than Arozarena, 25, and the 2 have a lot in widespread, although they’ve by no means met. Martin made nearly the very same journey 5 years earlier in 2010. He wound up taking part in 9 seasons within the majors and has been taking part in in Japan the previous two seasons. He is aware of firsthand the terrifying nervousness related to the trail Arozarena took.

“Realizing I’ve made $40 million in my profession, for those who put me in the identical state of affairs, I might after all go away Cuba once more, however I might by no means once more put myself in a nightmare state of affairs like that once more in my life,” Martin mentioned from Japan, the place he performs for Chiba Lotte. “The worst resolution a human might ever make is to place their life at risk merely to appreciate their dream. From the time you begin planning till the time you might be comfy in the US and taking part in baseball, there are such a lot of issues that may occur, from dropping your life to dropping every part you may have labored so laborious to realize.

“In the event that they catch you in Cuba, you might be ruined, and you’ll by no means be something ever once more. You’ll be able to die so simply on open seas. You might be killed when you arrive in Mexico or be kidnapped. And you actually do not know what you are getting your self into. Realizing every part I do know now, I might by no means go away Cuba once more within the method I did. No probability.”

Sadly, that’s the manner most of the Cubans presently in American skilled baseball arrived. The 2 international locations don’t have any formal relations. It was in Mexico that Arozarena established residency and started taking part in professional ball within the Mexican League.

From there, the St. Louis Cardinals scouted him and signed him for $1.25 million. He has hit at each degree he has performed, even flexing some energy numbers. However that was nothing like what he has performed for the reason that calendar flipped to September this 12 months. His 11 residence runs since Sept. 1 are second solely to Adam Duvall’s 12. His first sport for Tampa Bay this season was greater than a month after the season started in late July as a result of he contracted COVID-19.

As an apart, Arozarena wore No. 66 for his workforce in Tijuana due to his admiration for fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig, and he did so once more final season in St. Louis. Upon arriving in Tampa Bay, Arozarena was given No. 56 after he was traded together with Jose Martinez in January, a deal that despatched extremely regarded pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore and one other minor leaguer to the Cardinals. The Rays, a company that all the time thinks pitching first, appreciated Arozarena a lot that they dealt one in every of their prime minor league arms.

Not like Puig, Arozarena was principally a silent participant contained in the clubhouse, shying away from most any interview requests whereas with the Cardinals final 12 months. He has been on a few postseason zoom calls with reporters this month and is beginning to present extra of his character, becoming a member of teammates in a celebratory dance-off on the field on Friday at Petco Park after the Rays sealed their five-game sequence victory over the Yankees.

“I’ve all the time thought-about myself a fairly good participant and likewise a fairly good hitter,” Arozarena mentioned final week throughout a pregame name with reporters.

Anybody who shines brightest underneath the extraordinary lights of October might very properly be MLB’s subsequent Cuban star within the making.

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