ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Former Mt. Spokane ace Drew Rasmussen remembers watching Andrew Kittredge pitch for Ferris High in the mid-2000s. But don’t expect him to remember any specifics.
“I was probably a little young to fully understand what was going on,” Rasmussen said. “But I definitely remember the name.”
Nearly 15 years later and over 2,800 miles from Spokane, Rasmussen is paying closer attention to Kittredge, his teammate on the Tampa Bay Rays. Kittredge has become one of the most effective relievers in baseball and recently pitched a scoreless inning for the American League in the 2021 All-Star Game.
Rasmussen, who was acquired by the Rays in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on May 21, has gravitated toward Kittredge since joining the team on a call-up in mid-June. The two have shared stories about growing up as baseball players in Eastern Washington.
“Just having someone from my hometown on the same team is cool,” Kittredge said. “There aren’t too many of us in the league. We’ve talked a lot about Spokane.”
The new friendship has helped to make a smooth transition for Rasmussen.
“It’s easy to be able to talk to him,” Rasmussen said. “We come from a very similar background. There’s already an understanding of who I am as a person. I think he feels comfortable giving me advice. To be able to lean on him has been very easy these last few weeks.”
Although the 25-year-old Rasmussen admits the trade temporarily put his life in some disarray, he’s happy to be with the Rays organization. Tampa Bay actually drafted Rasmussen 31st overall in the 2017 draft, but Rasmussen needed Tommy John surgery and did not sign. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Brewers in the 2018 draft.
“I’m real excited to be here and in an organization that I believe values me,” Rasmussen said. “That’s a nice feeling to have. And this organization does such a nice job with its pitchers. It’s an organization full of good people and they just want to help me become the best version of myself.”
Rays pitching coach Kyle Murphy has high hopes for Rasmussen and believes that he could be a dominant reliever in time.
“He’s probably got as good of stuff as any relief pitcher, raw stuff, in baseball,” Murphy said. “He’s got a dominant slider that he can put anybody away with. He’s got an upper 90s fastball that he’s able to throw in the zone and challenge guys with. He’s been fun to watch.”
It took Kittredge, 31, a while to find his way in the major leagues. He didn’t make his MLB debut until 2017, when he was 27 years old. He carved out a role for himself in the 2018 season as one of the Rays’ “openers”, but started the 2019 season in Triple-A Durham.
After missing most of the 2020 season with a sprained UCL, Kittredge re-signed with the Rays on a minor-league contract near the end of spring training. He is 6-1 with 1.59 ERA and 45 strikeouts this season.
“There’s no question he’s been as valuable to our team as anyone,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “His numbers speak for themselves.”
It’s been a tough road for Kittredge to go from journeyman reliever to unlikely All-Star, but getting to the majors from Ferris is a tough road in itself. A road usually filled with snow.
“The weather was always a big challenge with playing in high school,” Kittredge said. “I remember our first two weeks of baseball usually got canceled because of snow. Guys were out there shoveling fields just to get games in. Then you play against guys from California or Texas, where they can play all year. They couldn’t relate to that.”
But Rasmussen can relate to it. He went through similar situations at Mt. Spokane. It’s something that he continues to hold on to as he goes through his journey in baseball.
“We were lucky to be on a field for that first day of practice,” Rasmussen said. “When you’re playing in early March and it’s snowing … it’s like being pushed in the deep end. But I also think that it really helps build character and toughen you up because there are going to be tough environments that you have to play in. And if you can play when you’re uncomfortable at 16, you can do it when you’re 25.”
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