Andrew Kittredge thought he was being traded.
Just about 24 hours before the MLB All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver, Kittredge was 1,841 miles away, sitting poolside and enjoying a vacation with his family at Disney World when his phone began to ring.
“At that point, it was the farthest thing from my mind that still coming here was a possibility,” he said. “Definitely grateful and humbled for the opportunity.”
Kittredge flew into Denver the morning of the game after he was announced as a last minute addition for the American League All-Star team, along with the Minnesota Twins’ Taylor Rogers, replacing the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and Seattle Mariners’ Yusei Kikuchi, who were designated inactive for the event. This is the first All-Star selection for Kittredge — the Spokane native, UW alum, and former Mariners’ draft pick — who’s rise to the highest echelons of baseball have been surprising to many.
But to the people who’ve seen him work, Kittredge’s development into one of the best relievers MLB has to offer is simply a sign of the competitor and athlete he’s always been.
“We’re really proud of Andrew, happy for him, happy for his family,” UW baseball coach Lindsay Meggs said. “He’s such a great competitor, in a world where everybody is incredibly talented, it’s neat to watch a guy who just competes at such a high level and just kind of wills himself to be successful.”
Kittredge began his baseball journey on the east side of the Cascade Range, in Spokane, where he attended Ferris High School, playing under longtime head coach John Thacker. Following an outstanding prep career, Kittredge was taken in the 45th round of the 2008 draft by the Seattle Mariners, his favorite team growing up.
However, it was another team in the state which had his heart. A die hard Washington fan, Kittredge turned down his opportunity to join the Mariners organization to play on Montlake, spending his first year in Seattle playing for Ken Knutson, before playing a season for Meggs. The current UW head coach remembers Kittredge as a talented athlete, and still believes he could have been a two-way player in an alternate timeline.
Kittredge wasn’t drafted following his time at Washington, but was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mariners. He spent six years in the minor leagues, with three separate stints with the Tacoma Rainiers in Triple-A, but finally found a home after Seattle traded him across the country to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.
The former Husky made his debut in 2017, and bounced up and down between the Majors and Triple-A. He had his most successful season in 2019, going 1-0 with a 4.17 ERA in 37 appearances, making 7 starts, striking out 58 and walking just 12. But just as it seemed he was carving out a space for himself in Tampa Bay, disaster struck.
Kittredge missed most of the 2020 season after a UCL injury, and seemed certain to face the knife for Tommy John surgery. Instead, he rehabbed and avoided it, but the Rays were only willing to offer the 31-year-old a minor-league contract with a camp invite ahead of the 2021 season.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “I felt like I was teetering on being out of baseball more than once but I just stuck with it. I always told myself, ‘I wanna play until someone takes my jersey,’ and stuck with it and was fortunate to kind of figure some things about myself, get a little better, and then start rolling from there.”
Tampa Bay’s faith paid off, and the 2021 season has been Kittredge’s best by a mile. In 32 appearances, he’s 6-1 with a 1.47 ERA and 43 strikeouts. His WHIP stands at an astounding 0.860.
And if the travel, excitement and shock, all on less than a day’s notice, added any extra fatigue, Kittredge didn’t show it. The righty did what he’s done all season for American League All-Star and Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, throwing a perfect, clean inning in relief after coming into the game in the seventh.
“(Kittredge) was a guy that we certainly were lobbying for,’’ Cash said. “His numbers speak for themselves. He doesn’t have the saves that some of these closers have, but I don’t know if you could say that anybody has been more valuable to a bullpen. So extremely worthy of the honor.’’
Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone contributed to this article.