Arozarena ready to strike a pose at All-Star Game

July 10th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- took a slow step out of the batter’s box, then tossed his bat high in the air after ripping his first career walk-off home run to right field against the Twins on June 7. But that wasn’t the part of the celebration that stood out.

As the Rays’ All-Star outfielder finished his trot around the bases, he stopped a few feet shy of home plate, a mob of teammates awaiting him there. Before leaping home, Arozarena pulled up, took a confident lean back and crossed his arms high across his chest. At least a dozen of his teammates did the same, assuming Arozarena’s signature pose in one of his finest moments this season.

You might have seen it from LSU’s Josh Pearson as he stepped on home plate after crushing a home run against Florida in the clinching game of the Men’s College World Series. Baseball players of all ages have started doing it, actually. Professional soccer players and high-ranking political officials in Mexico have done it, too. Shohei Ohtani even did it once at the World Baseball Classic.

And you’ll definitely see Arozarena do it the next few days in Seattle. The pose has become a visual representation of his latest star turn, and he’ll certainly strike it as he takes center stage in his first T-Mobile Home Run Derby and All-Star Game this week at T-Mobile Park.

“He's got an 'it' factor that you can't teach, but you know it when you see it,” Rays general manager Peter Bendix said. “When you combine that 'it' factor and his infectious personality with his talent, it leads to a superstar.”

Arozarena had already established himself as a big-time player who thrived in the spotlight; look no further than his record-setting 2020 postseason, or his performance in the World Baseball Classic for Team Mexico this spring.

But what has separated Arozarena this season, even from dynamic All-Star teammates like Wander Franco, Yandy Díaz and Shane McClanahan, is the level of fame and stardom he has found while forging a remarkable and reciprocal bond with fans around the world.

“It feels really good to be able to see that and feel the love and support that they always give out to me,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “The word I like to use is 'transmit.' I like to transmit the same energy that they give me. I like to give it right back, and then it helps me play a little bit better.”

Taking a deeper dive into data and focusing on his pregame preparation, the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year has delivered more consistent production and elevated his overall game to another level this year. Arozarena said he was partially motivated by the idea of signing a long-term contract, ideally with the Rays, given the success and happiness he has found with Tampa Bay.

“What I can do is focus on what I can do out on the field, try to keep things positive. Hopefully, that'll lead into some sort of contract talks, but that's out of my control,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “It's between the team and my agent, and all that I control is what I can do when I go out on the field."

He has been doing a lot on the field all year. It started in the World Baseball Classic, when Arozarena donned cowboy boots and a sombrero during batting practice and signed autographs in left field during games. He did all of it while dominating at the plate and making show-stopping defensive plays during Mexico’s run to the semifinals. Born in Cuba, Arozarena’s performance in the Classic made him a hero in his adopted home country.

“Everybody’s doing this,” said Mexican secretary of foreign affairs Marcelo Ebrard, crossing his arms over his chest, after meeting Arozarena at Tropicana Field in May.

The pose has no official name, Arozarena said, and he admitted the gesture actually came from earlier interactions with Kat Lucas, a member of the Rays’ game presentation staff. But he carried it into the Classic, and it spread like wildfire as he celebrated every clutch hit and highlight-reel play for Team Mexico.

“Exciting is probably the best way to describe it. He's just a fun player,” said Taijuan Walker, a Classic teammate. “It’s just crazy -- he doesn't talk, doesn't say anything, just really quiet. But when he plays, it's loud.”

So are the crowds and the cheers for Arozarena -- and not only when he stuffs his jersey full of baseballs to throw into the stands, as he did last month. Fans show up for him on Friday nights, filling “Randy Land” so fully and enthusiastically that it expanded into two left-field seating sections. They tag him in photos and videos, arms crossed, posing alongside him or after a moment of their own worth celebrating.

“If they're doing it, that means they're winning,” Arozarena said. “So I guess that's a good thing.”