Rays ballboy's all-out dive earns him trip to All-Star Game

July 11th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was the third game of the season and Braden Coles’ fourth day of work with the Rays. The 20-year-old member of the clubhouse staff was still trying to learn everyone’s names when he took his spot as a ballboy down the right-field line at Tropicana Field.

Coles’ first two days had been quiet, with nary a ball approaching the foul territory around Tampa Bay’s bullpen. Rays pitchers and coaches told him March 30 would be different.

“Today’s going to be your day,” he recalled them saying. “You’re finally going to get a ball.”

He got one, and the viral play he made earned him a spot at the 2024 All-Star Game at Globe Life Field as a member of the MLB All-Star Ball Crew.

The new initiative was designed to highlight MLB ballboys and girls and the viral moments they create, with the ultimate prize for two winners -- Coles and the Orioles’ Tyler Smith -- being a trip to the Midsummer Classic and a chance to serve as All-Star Ballboys/girls during the game itself.

“Now that it’s all official, this one’s blowing up even more than the original [play],” said Coles, who will share the experience in Arlington with his family and girlfriend, among others. “I would have thought there was no way something could be more blown-up than my first play, but it sure has.”

The Rays certainly believe their guy deserves another moment in the spotlight. Manager Kevin Cash said he voted for him -- and had his son, J.D., vote as well.

“I’m so excited for him. He’s such a great dude. He’s such a hard worker,” Rays setup man Jason Adam said. “He’s awesome. He takes his job seriously down there and protects us, but he also has fun with us. I’m so pumped for him, and I love that MLB did this.”

Coles will get to be on the field for the All-Star Game and take part in other All-Star events, like the Home Run Derby and the Red Carpet Show. Adam has just one request of him, though.

“Got to make a diving play!” Adam said. “I don’t care if it’s a fair ball. He’s got to go out there and dive for one.”

You’ve surely seen the original play, but let’s set the scene again.

The Rays were leading the Blue Jays, 3-1, with Phil Maton on the mound, two runners on and two outs in the seventh inning. Maton threw two strikes to get ahead of George Springer, then fired a high fastball. Springer swatted it into foul territory down the line, and the ball hopped toward the Rays' bullpen.

Adam told Coles, “Go make a play.” And did he ever.

Coles sprang out of his seat, hustled a few steps then laid out to make a diving, backhanded stop. As relievers leapt to their feet, cheering, Coles casually rolled over, holding his glove high, stood up and tossed the ball into the stands as he trotted back to his post.

“Oh, yes! How about that?” Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats said on the Bally Sports Sun telecast. “Hang a star on that one.”

“It doesn’t get any better,” echoed analyst Brian Anderson. “Late jump, but how about the extension? The dive. The backhand.”

“Sign him up,” Staats added, “right now.”

Ironically, Coles said, the security guard stationed in the bullpen initially told him, “Dude, I really hope you can somehow find that play on video.”

The 20-year-old played a lot of baseball growing up, manning shortstop at Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, Ill., and he said he didn’t think much else of his highlight-reel stop at first. Then, about 45 minutes after the game ended, with his work mostly done for the night -- clubbies are typically the first to arrive and last to leave -- he finally checked his phone.

It was lit up, buzzing nonstop for nearly an hour. Coles’ play had gone viral.

“In my head, I was just like -- not a routine diving play, but just a normal diving play,” Coles said. “When I finally looked at the video, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a little more than just a normal diving, backhanded play.’ It was pretty cool.”

His first hint actually came as he was walking off the field.

Coles had been working his second Yankees Spring Training in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., as his dad, Jeff, did from 1998-2000 while going to college at the University of South Florida. Jeff helped connect his son with the Yankees’ clubhouse staff, then the opportunity with the Rays presented itself about a week before Opening Day.

Jeff helped his son move across the bay to St. Petersburg and stuck around for the Opening Series, so he was in the stands as his son became a baseball Internet sensation.

After the final out, Coles made his way into the dugout to clean up. Jeff found him and said, “You’re going viral.” The rest of the clubhouse staff excitedly told him the same thing. Then he saw his phone “going off like crazy” with texts and notifications. That went on for more than just 15 minutes of fame, prompting interview requests and plenty of social-media praise.

It reminded him of something he’d been told going into the season that turned out to be prophetic.

“If you make a really good play, you get to be on SportsCenter’s Top 10. If you make a really bad play, you get to be on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10,” Coles said. “It’s all fun.”

Not just for him, either.

“I love it. One, we greatly appreciate them saving us,” Adam said. “But it's also just a blast seeing them run around and dive for the balls. It can get boring down there sometimes, so that's fun.”