Arozarena raises bar for '23 season

April 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- He didn’t wear his cowboy boots or a sombrero during batting practice. We didn’t see him don a luchador mask in the dugout. He didn’t rob a home run or make any other game-saving defensive plays.

But all the showmanship and joy  displayed throughout the World Baseball Classic? He brought that with him for the 25,025 fans at Tropicana Field on Opening Day.

“I'm very happy that they're very happy,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro after the Rays’ 4-0 win. “We're supposed to appreciate this game. So if they're having fun, I'm having fun -- and it gives me a lot of joy to be able to play in front of them because of that.”

Between his historic 2020 postseason and his 2021 American League Division Series dramatics, it quickly became apparent that Arozarena thrives on the big stage. And in the past two years, we began to see how much Arozarena loves playing to the crowd. He’d wave, smile and pump up anyone cheering his name, at home or on the road. He even hauled a bat out to left field for a fan last season.

“It's a lot of fun to watch Randy,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s got the left-field fans going crazy out there. 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.”

This spring, Arozarena let his personality shine through even more while starring for Mexico in a surprising run to the WBC semifinals. He chatted up fans from the on-deck circle and signed autographs while in left field. He celebrated a home run robbery in a way that was both hilariously casual, but also gravely intense.

And, of course, he broke out a celebration that stormed through Team Mexico, Mexican fans and now the Rays' outfield, emphatically crossing his arms whenever he did something to help the team.

Arozarena used that move following his RBI single against the Tigers, but also paused to do it amid the Rays’ smoke-filled, light-show player introductions Thursday afternoon. Then, when he met in the outfield with Jose Siri and Manuel Margot after the last out on Opening Day, they did it together. It wasn’t rehearsed, but it felt right.

“You know how Randy is,” Margot said through Navarro. “That just happens.”

“No one has as much fun as he does,” said shortstop Wander Franco through Navarro, “and you're supposed to have fun when you play this game.”

It’s unrealistic to expect Arozarena to maintain this level of energy for a full season. People call it a grind for a reason. There are bound to be lulls in both performance and positivity over six months and 162 games. Arozarena was particularly prone to streaky play last year, as his monthly splits indicate.

But the Rays were impressed this spring by Arozarena’s newfound interest in scouting reports and advanced preparation. (This is the same guy who said last season he only knew a few pitchers’ names: his fellow Cubans and Gerrit Cole.) That could help him reach a new level as a hitter and source of constant energy.

“In the Classic, I prepared well in the offseason, and I think 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 be able to help me into the long season.”

That sounds like good news for the Rays -- and anyone who buys a ticket to watch Arozarena play.