It’s the bottom of the 9th, game 7 of the World Series, the score’s been knotted since the third. McCormick comes to the plate, digs in ... it’s a nice day here at the park, don’t forget to try the new Kosher dogs on the mezzanine .... here’s the pitch, low and inside, he turns on it, the crowd goes wild, .... and then I make that cool crowd noise that boys do so well.
If there’s room, I run around the bases too.
I did it when I was five and still, in my head at least, do it now that I’m fifty. A friend of mine and I once chatted with a retired pro player in a bar and he admitted that he still did it even though he had actually played in games like that.
At the core of it all, we’re all just kids. Rich or poor, athletic or not, we all still dream of that moment. That one time when we can ascertain personal glory and success for our teammates.
It’s not a bad dream to have. It houses the essence of why we play and watch sports.
Aside from that there is a secondary dream held by all pro athletes, whether they admit it or not, and that is to be recognized on the largest stage for their efforts. That is why there are All Star games. And while other sports versions of them are watered down and silly, Major League Baseball manages to strike just the right balance between “fun for the fans” and “good for the game.” Although I still think it’s insane to put home field advantage for the World Series on the line.
That quibble aside, let’s take a look at Chicago’s all stars this year. For the Cubs, it’s Castro & LaHair.
Starlin Castro was nervous Sunday. He arrived at Wrigley Field early on All-Star selection day, but nobody said anything to him. Bryan LaHair, on the other hand, was preparing for another day, thankful to be in the big leagues after nine long seasons in the Minors.
It wasn’t until Cubs manager Dale Sveum called a team meeting prior to Sunday’s game that Castro could take a deep breath and LaHair suddenly couldn’t breathe.
Castro was named to the National League All-Star team for the second straight year, and he’ll have company as LaHair also was selected as a reserve.
“It kind of caught him off-guard a little bit,” Sveum said of LaHair, 29, who made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster this year for the first time. “That’s what we live for in this game—one of those special moments.”
LaHair can thank his peers for the honor. He finished eighth in the fan balloting with 950,206 votes, and second in player balloting behind the Reds’ Joey Votto, who was named the NL starter at first base. LaHair is batting .284 with 13 homers and 28 RBIs, but he has switched to right field with the arrival this week of top prospect Anthony Rizzo.
“It gives you chills,” LaHair said. “You get a chance to quickly reflect, and I’m sure I’ll reflect more later on, but you think about all the work you put in and the adversity you’ve been through and the different adventures you’ve had along the way to get your first opportunity in the big leagues, and now an All-Star Game is just incredible.”
His teammates applauded the news. LaHair has persevered, coming into this season with 195 big league at-bats, and 136 were with the Mariners in 2008.
“It was a dream as a little boy to be an All-Star, but to think it would happen this fast or if at all—it’s really tough to get into that game,” he said.
Castro, 22, finished fifth among NL shortstops in the fan balloting, receiving 2,185,278 votes, and he was first in player balloting, ahead of the Cardinals’ Rafael Furcal, who was named the NL starter. Castro was the Cubs’ only representative at the All-Star Game last year, and he leads all NL shortstops with 94 hits and a .296 batting average.
Last year, Castro was the youngest Cubs player named to the Midsummer Classic. He also is the first Cubs shortstop to be selected in back-to-back All-Star Games since Don Kessinger, who was named to the All-Star team from 1968-72.
“I’m happy for him because he’s improving,” Alfonso Soriano said. “He’s a good player and consistent. That’s the most important thing in the big leagues. You can do it for one year and the second year, you disappear. I’m happy for him because he’s young, he’s working hard and he’s been consistent. Sometimes when you get to the big leagues, you do it for one year, but from what I see with Castro, he wants to do it every year.”
That’s his goal.
“When I was a little kid, I would see baseball games and good players who made the All-Star Game, and I’d think, ‘Oh my God, it’s unbelievable, and one day, I want to be there,’” he said. “And now this is my second one. I’m not stopping here. I’ll keep working hard to make some more.”
Castro has started all 78 games for the Cubs this season. Since making his Major League debut on May 7, 2010, he is tied for fourth in the Major Leagues and leads the NL with 440 hits.
He’s also committed 13 errors this season, but on June 19, he made an All-Star worthy acrobatic grab. Somehow, Castro snared Alejandro De Aza’s popup on the run in shallow left in the White Sox fifth. The ball bounced off Castro’s glove, but he caught it with his bare hand and stayed on his feet.
“The work he’s put in around the bag and clearing himself to turn the double play, you can tell it’s working,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. “He’s not staying within three feet of the bag and turning and letting guys get in on his feet. He’s pushing off the bag and clearing himself and getting a good strong throw.”
The Cubs see lots of positives.
“Theo [Epstein] and I talk about it all the time, and that is when we got here, people questioned [Castro’s] ability to stay at shortstop and they were frustrated,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I don’t think there’s any question he’ll be an above-average defensive shortstop. He’s made some errors, but he’s a 22-year-old shortstop.
“The range is there, he’s worked really hard with Dale and Pat on his defense and I think he’ll be the shortstop for a long time. He’s really proven a lot to us in a short time, and I think he’ll keep getting better.”
LaHair was selected to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team last year, but this is different. He’s handled the switch from first base to outfield to make room for Rizzo without a complaint.
“It’s good to hear a feel-good story like that about a guy who has definitely paid his dues in the Minor Leagues,” Reed Johnson said. “He’s not only had an opportunity to have a great year and stick in the big leagues but also make an All-Star team.”
“It’s not something I play for,” LaHair said about making the All-Star team. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I’m thankful the players voted me in. I’m extremely thankful for that.”
He’s the first Cubs player to be elected as a first baseman since Derrek Lee in 2007 and only the third Cubs first baseman to make the team in the last 30 years (Mark Grace).
That’s some pretty heady company for the young Mr. LaHair. Grace, Lee & thee should tell you just how good you are. Let’s take a look at the rest of the National league’s All Stars.
NATIONAL LEAGUE ROSTER
C Buster Posey, SF
1B Joey Votto, CIN
2B Dan Uggla, ATL
SS Rafael Furcal, STL
3B Pablo Sandoval, SF
OF Melky Cabrera, SF
OF Carlos Beltran, STL
OF Matt Kemp, LAD
RHP Matt Cain, SF
LHP Aroldis Chapman, CIN
RHP R.A. Dickey, NYM
LHP Gio Gonzalez, WAS
LHP Cole Hamels, PHI
RHP Joel Hanrahan, PIT
LHP Clayton Kershaw, LAD
RHP Craig Kimbrel, ATL
RHP Lance Lynn, STL
LHP Wade Miley, ARI
RHP Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
RHP Stephen Strasburg, WAS
RHP Huston Street, SD
C Yadier Molina, STL
C Carlos Ruiz, PHI
1B Bryan LaHair, CHC
2B Jose Altuve, HOU
SS Starlin Castro, CHC
SS Ian Desmond, WAS
3B David Wright, NYM
OF Ryan Braun, MIL
OF Jay Bruce, CIN
OF Carlos Gonzalez, COL
OF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
OF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
On the Southsdie, the Sox announced they’re sending Konerko, Dunn & Sale to Kansas to try the Bar-B-Q.
Chris Sale and his wife, Brianne, had planned to do some work on their new house in Florida during the upcoming All-Star break.
Those plans have been tabled because of the left-hander’s immense talent.
“I guess I’ll have to find another time to do that,” said a beaming Sale. “But I’ll sleep in an empty house for the first couple weeks of the offseason. That’s fine with me.”
Sale, 23, was one of three White Sox players selected to the American League All-Star team, as announced on TBS during the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell on Sunday. First baseman Paul Konerko and designated hitter Adam Dunn also were chosen to play in the July 10 Midsummer Classic at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, marking the sixth such honor for the White Sox captain and second for the big left-handed slugger.
Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski were equally worthy of All-Star consideration, but their names were not called. Peavy, however, is one of the five candidates on the AL Final Vote ballot, trying to join Scott Podsednik (2005), Pierzynski (’06) and Konerko (’11) as previous White Sox winners.
Each of this year’s three White Sox All-Stars holds his own individual reason for celebration.
Konerko, 36, has found an optimum level of consistency at the plate in the latter stages of his career to go with his remarkably steady leadership as White Sox captain. With a .335 average following Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees, Konerko appears well on his way to a third straight season with a mark above .300 and is challenging for the AL batting title. He has 14 homers and 40 RBIs, in pursuit of a third straight year with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
There’s no way Konerko would miss an All-Star Game if selected. But he has a typically pragmatic win-win approach when viewing the All-Star break as a whole.
“You never think it’s not a big deal, no matter how long you play or how old you are,” Konerko said. “It’s a great thing. I watched it as a kid every year. It’s an honor to go.
“If you don’t go, it’s not a big deal, too. You get some rest, spend some time with your family. That’s all good. It worked out, as everyone knows. .... If you do get picked, you’re thankful and you want to enjoy it.”
Last year’s struggles for Dunn have been well documented; he hit .159 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. Those issues are a thing of the past, as Dunn has belted 24 homers and collected 58 RBIs this season.
Dunn, Konerko and Sale were all voted in by the players, with Konerko garnering 592 votes at first to 333 for All-Star starter Prince Fielder. Sale finished second behind Tigers ace Justin Verlander, while Dunn was second to Red Sox DH David Ortiz.
“Getting voted in by your peers, that’s the highest honor you can have,” Dunn said. “It’s a great feeling, a great honor. But I really feel like there’s a lot of guys in here that deserved it.”
Then there’s Sale, the first-time All-Star and the team’s top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft who was a late-inning relief star in 2011. Left elbow soreness briefly shifted Sale to the bullpen on May 4, but the young man argued his way back into the rotation by May 12 after realizing it was nothing more than normal soreness and has become a force.
“I’m so excited about him getting the opportunity, the recognition he deserves,” said Peavy of his rotation-mate. “Chris has been as good as anybody to me, if not simply the best pitcher in the game. He has been just a rock for us, to go out every fifth day to give us more than a chance. I’m sure it’s going to be the first of many for him.”
“It’s awesome,” Sale said. “It’s something I’ve honestly thought about for a long time since I was a kid, playing baseball, being a fan of baseball. I was kind of speechless. They told me. It was just crazy.”
Manger Robin Ventura and bench coach Mark Parent broke the news to Sale, who has posted a 9-2 record and an AL-best 2.27 ERA over 15 games and 14 starts, having struck out 94 and allowed just 68 hits over 95 1/3 innings. Sale immediately called his wife, his dad and his mom, joking that his mom didn’t pick up because she was at the beach.
“My dad just said, ‘Good for you. Congratulations,’” Sale said. “Like I said before, this is something I’ve gone through with him. This is satisfying for me, and he’s tickled about it, too, just because all the stuff he’s gone through with me, playing baseball in the backyard. I owe a lot of this to him, too.
“I have a couple of good guys who have been there and can show me the [All-Star] ropes a little bit. It’s been an incredible ride. I wish I could sit here and tell you I did this all by myself, but I’ve had two catchers behind the plate, the defense is behind me, scoring runs when I’m out there. Without those guys, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
The southpaw is currently scheduled to pitch on Tuesday against Texas and then finish the first half for the White Sox against Toronto at home. But even with that Sunday start, Sale can petition to pitch two days later in the All-Star Game under a fixed pitch count.
“If I feel good; we’ll go at it,” Sale said. “Obviously, it’s something we’ve got to sit down and talk about a little bit more.”
If Sale has a pitch count higher than 30 I will lobby for human sacrifices to be held in center field. During the game. But something tells me that I really shouldn’t worry. According to a source Sale’s not allowed to bend his elbow to raise a beer, they have “people” who do that stuff for him.
AMERICAN LEAGUE ROSTER
C Mike Napoli, TEX
1B Prince Fielder, DET
2B Robinson Cano, NYY
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX
SS Derek Jeter, NYY
OF Josh Hamilton, TEX
OF Curtis Granderson, NYY
OF Jose Bautista, TOR
DH David Ortiz, BOS
RHP Ryan Cook, OAK
LHP Matt Harrison, TEX
RHP Felix Hernandez, SEA
RHP Jim Johnson, BAL
RHP Joe Nathan, TEX
RHP Chris Perez, CLE
LHP David Price, TB
RHP Fernando Rodney, TB
LHP CC Sabathia, NYY
LHP Chris Sale, CWS
RHP Justin Verlander, DET
RHP Jered Weaver, LAA
LHP C.J. Wilson, LAA
C Joe Mauer, MIN
C Matt Wieters, BAL
SS Elvis Andrus, TEX
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
3B Miguel Cabrera, DET
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX
1B Paul Konerko, CWS
OF Adam Jones, BAL
OF Mike Trout, LAA
OF Mark Trumbo, LAA
DH Billy Butler, KC
DH Adam Dunn, CWS
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