February 3, 2023

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Wander necklace a hit with fans — and teammates

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ST. PETERSBURG — Two weeks before he was called up last year, Rays shortstop Wander Franco ordered a custom chain necklace. It would be silver and studded with diamonds, with a pendant in the shape of the number he’d wear when he made his highly anticipated Major League debut.

Franco still wears that chain around his neck, saying through interpreter Manny Navarro he will “never take it off.” A lot of his teammates and fans duplicated his style Friday night.

The Rays held a “Wander Franco Chain Necklace” giveaway for fans who attended Friday’s game against the Yankees at Tropicana Field. The promotional item was a big hit inside Tampa Bay’s clubhouse, too, as a bunch of the 21-year-old shortstop’s teammates sported the chain Friday afternoon.

Starter Shane McClanahan wore it around the clubhouse. Reliever Colin Poche, utility man Vidal Bruján and infielder Isaac Paredes, among others, put theirs on as they took the field for pregame workouts. The whole clubhouse staff and even a few coaches, including third-base coach Rodney Linares, matched Franco’s style, too.

“It definitely shows a good attitude in your teammates,” Franco said, smiling. “It’s cool that they’re having fun with it and that they’re demonstrating it for me. … Very happy that they were able to do that gesture. I know I picked this one out for me, so for them to show that, this is special for me.”

How did the replica compare to the real deal? Well, No. 5 is a little bigger on the promotional item than on Franco’s. And it’s safe to say there are a few more real diamonds on the original.

“Very different,” Franco said through Navarro, sizing up the No. 5 chain giveaway around Navarro’s neck.

“It is a little bit bigger,” manager Kevin Cash added, laughing, “but I think if you held them both in your hand, you’d feel a little difference in weight.”

One person who didn’t rock the chain on Friday afternoon? Cash, although he joked he’d consider doing so on Saturday depending on how many hits Franco recorded on his giveaway night. But he grabbed about 15 chains earlier in the day for his 9-year-old son J.D. and his Pinellas County league championship-winning Northeast Little League team.

“I think the Rays did a good job with it, because it’s heavy. We’ve got to check and see if it’s real or not,” Cash said, smiling. “But you know what? If it’s going to help him hit and get going, we’ll have the whole team wear the thing.”

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