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Rays’ Blake Snell now in a starring role

WASHINGTON — Blake Snell first got the feeling after arriving at the All-Star hotel late Sunday night. He'd shared the first-class cabin on the Delta flight from Minneapolis with Rays teammate Wilson Ramos plus manager Kevin Cash and his wife, Emily, and ridden over from the airport in a chauffeured SUV. Now he was crossing paths in the lobby with Atlanta's Ozzie Albies, Cleveland's Francisco Lindor and Seattle's Edwin Diaz.

Snell felt it again Monday, during breakfast in the private room, riding the team bus over to Nationals Park and, most dramatically, when he walked into the American League clubhouse.

"With every passing, I'd see somebody and I'm like, 'There he is, and there he is,' ''' Snell said. "The coolest thing for me was just seeing everybody. You're almost star struck in a way. It's like, 'Wow.' That's really what it is.''

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Though Snell wasn't named to the American League team until Friday as a replacement for an injured player, he very much belonged, as his 12-4 record and league-best 2.09 ERA at the time of the July 8 announcement showed.

Snell knew that, and felt vindicated when he was added. But he got a better sense of how he was valued when I told him Monday afternoon that AL/Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he'd been under consideration — "not too far behind" — for the start, along with New York's Luis Severino, that went to Boston's Chris Sale.

"For him to say that, I guess I'm at a loss for words,'' Snell said. "That means a lot to me that he thinks that highly of me.''

Hinch's plan is for Snell to follow Sale and Severino tonight, so likely pitching the third or fourth inning.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to present myself with the best of the league,'' Snell said. "There's not really any more you can ask for. I'm excited to pitch. I can't wait.''

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More than any souvenir or memorabilia, what Snell, 25, wants most from his first All-Star experience is the chance to talk baseball, from training tips to strategy, with the elite.

Sale, the hard-throwing lefty, was tops on his list, and he couldn't wait, approaching him at breakfast for what sounded like just the start of the conversation.

"I thought it was funny,'' Sale said, "because when you look at the year he's having, I don't think he needs to talk to anybody or ask anybody any questions.''

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Snell's primary baseball influence has been his father, Dave, a longtime coach currently at Shoreline Community College near their Seattle hometown. So it was very important for Snell to have his dad, three brothers (including fraternal twin) and some friends here in a 10-man fan club.

"I know Blake set some high goals for himself back in August to finish strong and never get sent down again,'' Dave Snell said Monday. "He worked hard in the offseason and had some high targets. So the All-Star thing was big for him and he is enjoying the moment he earned. He's got a few more he wants to achieve this year, but most of all he wants this young (Rays) team to come together and finish strong.

"It's great as a father and a fan to see your kids reach their mark and strive to do their best, as well as being rewarded for the hard work it takes to be successful.''

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Snell's biggest test Monday was one of endurance — answering questions during the afternoon media session for nearly 40 full minutes, apparently a personal record.

"That's a lot of talking,'' he said as it wrapped. "And it was consistent.

Snell was asked, and was patient in answering, all the obvious questions, about being snubbed originally for the team (disappointed and frustrated), secrets to his success this season (confidence), what he was most looking forward to in the All-Star experience (talking to his peers).

And then there were a few that were a little more interesting:
Asked what retired player he'd most like to have a drink with, Snell pointed out he doesn't drink: "If we're talking waters, Ken Griffey Jr. That'd be the guy.''

Asked by Jason, the designated "kid reporter," about favorite offseason activities, Snell said hiking, shooting hoops with buddies and playing video games, specifically Fortnite. Then he playfully turned the process around, even offering to the hold the mic, saying, "I've got a question for you — what is your favorite Fortnite dance?'' (For the record, Kid preferred Disco Fever; Snell likes Floss and Popcorn, where you throw it in your own face.)

And asked about his friendship with NFL star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Snell said he disputed Beckham's Instagram post about his supposed resemblance to the Stinky Peterson character in the Hey Arnold! animated series, allowed that Beckham is a better baseball player than Snell would be in football ("He's just a freak athlete"), and drew the line at the suggestion Beckham was a better hitter than him.
Also: "Odell, No. 1, you ain't hitting my fastball.''

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Though unable to play after straining his hamstring Saturday, Ramos was still very much excited to be back in Washington as an All-Star for the second time: "You can see on my face, I've got a big smile.''

And he could totally relate to the excitement Snell was having, enjoying the view from the adjacent locker: "I know what he feels right now, he's so happy, like looking at his clothes, that everything says All-Star.''

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As wide-eyed as Snell is in seeing the other stars, the reality is that some are just as excited about getting to meet him, several raving about how impressive he's been. Snell said he's not quite ready for that.

"That's weird,'' he said. "I'm more like, 'That's Chris Sale, that's Aaron Judge.' It's better for me that way.''
Not for long.

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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