ST. PETERSBURG — You saw them together in the dugout in New York or Baltimore or Texas, chatting quietly for 15 minutes or so before the beginning of batting practice.
Wil Myers, the hotshot rookie, and Ben Zobrist, the level-headed veteran, talking about their faith, family, baseball, life in the big leagues, where to eat after the game, anything.
It was Myers who, not long after his much-anticipated promotion to the Rays, approached Zobrist about the pregame meetings.
“I asked him if we could set aside 10 to 20 minutes just to talk about what’s going on with our lives, how we can help each other,” Myers said.
Zobrist was impressed with both the request and what he learned about his 22-year-old teammate during their journey through the remainder of the season and to the playoffs.
“He’s got his head on right,” Zobrist said. “He was very balanced for a rookie.”
And that, as much as Myers’ talent at the plate and on the field, is why he is the favorite to win the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s American League Rookie of the Year Award when the results are announced Monday.
“He’s not afraid to succeed,” Rays pitcher Chris Archer said. “He believes in himself enough to not be overwhelmed with a bad game or a bad couple of weeks.”
Archer is a finalist for the award along with Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias.
But Myers is expected to become the third Ray to win rookie of the year, joining Evan Longoria (2008) and Jeremy Hellickson (2011).
“It’s just a huge honor to be considered for an award like this,” Myers said.
In a year not rich in top-flight rookies in the American League, Myers has the numbers to support his case.
Despite playing just more than half a season’s worth of games (88), Myers led all American League rookies in doubles (23), extra-base hits (36), slugging percentage (.478), go-ahead RBIs (15) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.831).
His 53 RBIs were the most on the Rays after he debuted June 18 during a doubleheader in Boston. He also led the team in runs scored (50) and on-base percentage (.596) after that rainy day at Fenway Park.
He led the Rays with a .351 average and 18 RBIs during the 23-4 run from June 29 to July 30 that pushed the Rays into a wild-card spot. He hit .310 with 10 doubles and 11 RBIs as the Rays closed the regular season with a 14-5 run to clinch a postseason spot.
“I’m happy we have him,” bench coach Davey Martinez said. “He helped us out tremendously.”
When asked about his season, about what he accomplished when so many expected so much from the main piece in the December trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, Myers said, “It’s very hard. These (pitchers) are really, really good. You make adjustments game to game. It’s not one of those things where you make an adjustment and it lasts all year. Here you make an adjustment game to game, pitch to pitch.”
His teammates aren’t as consumed with Myers’ numbers as those who follow the sport. To them, Myers was a catalyst who helped them win a wild-card spot, a rookie who blended in well in the clubhouse, an interesting dude with the just-rolled-out-of-bed hair style who didn’t say much but who spoke from the heart when he did talk.
The mix of talent and confidence is what makes Wil Myers Wil Myers.
“I think it’s unusual. I certainly didn’t feel that right away,” Zobrist said. “I think there are some guys who feel that way, but then it turns into cockiness. There’s humility there. I think he strikes a pretty good balance of being himself and being confident, knowing he could do it, but also realizing he’s a rookie and he has a lot to learn.”
Myers’ first home run was a grand slam at Yankee Stadium off CC Sabathia. He singled off Mariano Rivera in his first at-bat against the future Hall of Fame closer. He seemed to get every big hit during the September playoff push.
Myers didn’t seem bothered by the “Myeers! Myeers! Myeers!” chants by the Fenway Park faithful after he allowed a catchable fly ball to land on the warning track during a critical moment of the Game 1 of the American League Division Series, then answered every question concerning the play after the game.
Eyes rolled in the Rays’ clubhouse during spring training when the players and staff learned of an exchange between Myers and third base coach Tom Foley. Myers had double to right field during a game against the Twins. When he reached third later in that inning, Foley complimented the at-bat.
“You hit that ball hard,” Foley said.
“I hit every ball hard,” Myers said.
Martinez laughed at the story.
“Sometimes I look at him and I think, ‘Did you really just say that?’ ” Martinez said. “He came up to me (in September) and said it would be awesome if we went to the playoffs during his first year in the majors. I said, ‘Well, we’ve done it before.’ ”
Part of Myers’ nonchalant attitude stems from the fact he expected to be in the big leagues at this age. He expects to continue the success he had in the minor leagues at the big-league level. He expects to be a big reason why his team wins.
“Being in the situation that he was in, a rookie, a prospect, a phenom, coming up and doing as well as he has, I think that’s contributed to his confidence level,” Zobrist said. “He believes that he’s supposed to be here. It seems like it’s the beginning of a long, big league career, Lord willing. It’s business as he expected it to be in the major leagues.”