Opinion: After escaping Cuba, overcoming COVID, Randy Arozarena’s performance shouldn’t shock us

SAN DIEGO — Considering what Randy Arozarena has endured just to get here, nothing should be considered impossible.

Arozarena, whose postseason performance has the Tampa Bay Rays on the brink of the American League Championship Series, was a talented soccer and baseball player in Cuba, but after his father died when he was 15, he was devastated. He sought permission from his mother to escape on a raft as a 19-year-old to try to make money for the family as a baseball player.

"You honestly just have to risk your life for your family," Arozarena recently told MLB.com. "When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you’re thinking about and hoping for is that you get there safely. There’s been people that are out in the ocean for days, months, and there are others that don’t make it because they die.

"But when you’re in one of those fake boats in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing you could do is hope that you survive. I took the chance and thankfully, I got here without any problems."

Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena is the first rookie in AL history to produce four consecutive multi-hit games in the postseason. (Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

Arozarena defected, played in Mexico in 2015, and signed with the Cardinals in 2016 for $1.25 million. He hit .344 in the minors last year, and made his major-league debut, but got only 23 plate appearances.

He received national attention after filming Cardinals manager Mike Shildt’s expletive-laden celebratory postseason pep talk last October and posting it on his social media account.

The Cardinals didn’t foresee him fitting into their future, the Rays were looking for outfield depth, and they traded him along with outfielder/DH Jose Martinez for top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore and catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez.

Arozarena missed the first five weeks of this 60-game season with COVID-19 and wasn’t called up to the Rays until Aug. 30.

He spent his time in quarantine learning how to cook, eating nothing but chicken and rice, doing 300 push-ups a day, and gaining 15 pounds of muscle.

After making his season debut on Aug. 31, Arozarena hit .500 in his first six games with four home runs. Including the postseason, he has 10 homers in his last 21 starts.

In the Rays' 8-4 victory Wednesday night against the New York Yankees, Arozarena went 3-for-4 with a home run, two singles and a walk, and now is hitting .600 with three homers, two doubles, a triple and four multiple-hit games against the Yankees.

He’s the first rookie in American League history to produce four consecutive multi-hit games in the postseason.

“It’s pretty spectacular what he’s doing right now,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. 

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