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Andy Sonnanstine
Rays righty perfect 'match' for marshal duties

By Mychael Urban / MLB.com

At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Andy Sonnanstine is built a bit like a matchstick.

As a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, he wears a blue cap.

Learn a little something about Sonnanstine's hometown of Wadsworth, Ohio, and you will quickly see how perfectly it all fits together.

Wadsworth, you see, used to be the home of the Ohio Blue Tip Match Factory. And while the match-manufacturing business left town in the 1980s, the city's annual Blue Tip Festival is still going strong.

The five-day festival starts with a big parade, and the party officially begins with the lighting of a 20-foot, blue-tipped match, which illuminates downtown Wadsworth until the bash's culmination.

The grand marshal of the 2008 parade was astronaut Michael Foreman. Also a Wadsworth native, he helped kick off the 36th annual Blue Tip Festival approximately three months after spending 15 days aboard NASA's space shuttle Endeavour on a mission to the International Space Station.

According to Wadsworth city officials, Sonnanstine's success during the Rays' out-of-this-world 2008 season makes him a logical choice to succeed Foreman as the parade's grand marshal in 2009.

"I would say there's a very high probability he'll be asked," Chris Easton, the director of city services, told MLB.com by phone a few days before Sonnanstine started Game 4 of the 2008 World Series. "He certainly has the resume."

"I'll definitely put the good word in for him," Mayor Robin Laubaugh said with a laugh.

Age: 25

Hometown:
Barberton, Ohio

College:
Kent State University

MLB Teams: TB

Video | Player bio

"We had Michael Foreman in the Space Shuttle, and now Andy in the World Series. It's not often you have a small town really enjoy two individuals involved in such high-profile events."

A graduate of Wadsworth High School who matriculated to Kent State University before being selected by Tampa Bay in the 13th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Sonnanstine is single-handedly shifting the city's baseball allegiances.

Wadsworth, which Easton said has a population of roughly 20,000, is about 25 miles outside of Cleveland. But the people in what used to be strictly Tribe territory aren't thinking about the Indians as much. These days, the Rays are all the rage.

"I have noticed more and more activity," Easton said. "There are a lot of baseball fans here in Wadsworth, and a lot of people here are talking and learning more about the Rays. No doubt about it."

They already know all about Sonnanstine, whose parents, Don and Joyce, still live in town. A 25-year-old right-hander, Andy is all over the local papers, and he's a hot topic among the locals.

"You go to different events and luncheons, and he always seems to come up in conversation," said Mayor Laubaugh. "Everybody seems to be talking about him."

They certainly were at a recent Lions Club gathering.

"Everyone there was trying to figure out if Andy pitches Game 4, will he pitch in Game 7? What's his role going to be? How's he going to do?" Easton said. "It's pretty exciting. The whole area is really proud. He's the hometown hero right now."

There's no question that Sonnanstine, who won each of his starts in the American League Division Series and AL Championship Series, has been lighting it up on baseball's biggest stage.

But it might be a challenge for him to help light the giant match at the next Blue Tip Festival; it's held every June, smack dab in the middle of baseball season.

"Yeah, that might be tough," Easton said with a chuckle. "I'm sure everyone would love to have him, but he might be working at that time."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.