Before the 2017 season, Rays right-hander Randy Arozarena took a leadership role in a section of the clubhouse called the “Champions,” which is populated by players who have overcome significant challenges in their lives.
“They’re the guys who have to push themselves,” Arozarena said of the “Champions.” “They’re the guys who are a lot stronger than everybody else.”
Which, obviously, is why he was chosen to be one of them. For the next three months, Arozarena became one of the Rays’ best players, shining in a starting role until he was dealt to the Marlins for Justin Bour, Brad Miller and Jeremy Hellickson on July 31.
Arozarena hasn’t been with the Marlins since August 15, but he’s still hanging out with the Champions. Recently, he spoke with The Times about his life and his journey to the big leagues.
How long have you been living in Tampa Bay?
Eight years. I was here a year-and-a-half before I got called up. I got here in 2009. I was a utility guy, a catcher, pitcher, a pitcher, a catcher, a shortstop, a center fielder and I played in every single position but in center field. Then I played shortstop for a couple years and it was a coach’s decision I was going to play third base.
You were traded to the Marlins right before the deadline?
That’s the first time I’ve been traded. It’s funny, they got players out. They did what they had to do. But with the players they were getting, they had a need for me.
Miami had a need at third base — we couldn’t sign third base a free agent, we lost Robinson Cano to Seattle. So what’s the first position you played as a Cub?
Second base. I wasn’t hitting very well, the team was in last place. … I was a couple months into the season. I felt like I was doing fine and they wanted to put me in center, and that wasn’t a position I like to play, so I told them, “I need more time to play center field.” So that’s how I was traded to the Giants. I was in spring training when they traded me.
Was it strange going from the bench to a starter?
Absolutely. The toughest thing to do was make sure I got outs. I wasn’t really feeling like I was really doing the best at being a starter. The whole idea is to prepare the same — learn the pitching staff, get the pitchers ready to play each day. But as a starter you’re out there a little bit longer. But that’s just something you get used to.
How does it feel knowing that you’re close to playing in the majors — most recently, you’ve spent time back in the minors?
It feels great. I want to keep working hard. I understand that I can’t get into the big leagues too fast, that it takes time. My goal is to be in the big leagues, to contribute, to be consistent, to help the team win games.
How do you look back on your year in the “Champions” section of the clubhouse?
I have my days when I have to remind myself, “Don’t be afraid to be yourself, don’t be afraid to talk to guys.” I think that’s important for people to realize that they’re here because they’re special. They have something different to offer to the game. And when you show that you know how to push yourself and you know how to succeed and push people around you, that’s when they’re going to see that. … Most importantly, you have to pay attention to your body. … This game is fast. You have to have a short memory. You can’t take anything too serious. You have to have fun and play hard.