All-Star nods are cool, but it’s the compliments that really resonate

SEATTLE — Midway through his rookie season, Julio Rodríguez introduced himself to the wider baseball world at last year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. And, in general, the baseball world was hit. He left the Midsummer Classic a superstar and went on to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors.

A year later, with the All-Star Game on his home turf, it seemed like you couldn’t walk a block in downtown Seattle without seeing his face. Suffice it to say, the people who saw him play are fans.

“I feel like a lot of people say a lot of nice things,” Rodríguez said this week when asked what was the best compliment he’s ever received on his game. Julio isn’t more humble than he should be, but here he’s just being honest. Still, some praise means a little more than most.

While Rodríguez was playing his first All-Star Game of 2022, the Angels’ Mike Trout was playing his 10th. Rodríguez took the opportunity to ask Trout about his experience spending a decade quietly dominating the sport.

“And he kind of encouraged me,” Rodríguez said. “He was like, ‘Everything you need, you already have. So go out there and believe in yourself.

The sentiment might not have been particularly fancy, but the source made it special.

“When I was growing up, like, he was This guys. It’s always that guy! Rodriguez said. “So it was really cool to hear that from him.”

‘You got some good shit, man’

The All-Stars, by definition, have had ample opportunity for people to give them adulation. The event itself is a day-long showcase and celebration of their individual greatness. More than any team accomplishment (perhaps more important), being named to an all-star list is a no-holds-barred recognition: Hey, you’re great at what you do.

But for the All-Stars themselves, the compliments that matter most tend to be the ones they receive not as awards, but from each other. And sometimes those come at the most unexpected times.

“We were in the playoffs and I just kicked off Game 2 against the Tigers in Oakland,” said Sonny Gray, who is an All-Star for the Minnesota Twins this year at age 33 but made his debut with the Minnesota Twins. A from Oakland in 2013 when they went to the Division Series.

The then-rookie pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win for the A’s, but in the next game in Detroit a fight broke out.

“I was young. I didn’t really know what was going on, and everyone was yelling at each other, and I kind of stay in the back,” Gray said. Then team interpreter Ariel Prieto, found him in the middle of the scrum.

“He’s like, ‘Hey, Sonny, Miggy wants to see you! Miggy wants to see you!’

Miggy, of course, is Miguel Cabrera. At the time, he was playing in what would be his second consecutive MVP season, with 10 years in the major leagues already under his belt.

“I join Cabrera, and he says to me: ‘Hey, hey!’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He says, ‘You got some good shit, man. You got some good shit,'” Gray recalled. “‘Thank you, Mr. Cabrera. I appreciate that.'”

Cabrera, a 21-year-old veteran and future Hall of Famer who is on a farewell tour this season, obviously didn’t shy away from rocking the young players — much to their delight. Austin Riley is now a two-time All-Star after the entire Braves infield played in Seattle this week as part of an eight-man Atlanta contingent. But just a few years ago, Riley was 21 and hoping to make the team.

As spring training wrapped up in 2019, Cabrera ran into Riley and asked if he would be on the opening day roster.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know. We’ll see,’ Riley said. “He’s like, ‘If you were on our team, I’d make sure you were on it.'”

As it turns out, Riley didn’t break camp with the Braves, but he was called up later that season. Anyway, “I thought it was pretty nice to hear from him,” he said.

“We have no idea how to get you out”

For fellow All-Stars, the most memorable compliments are those that validate a point of pride — or assuage an area of ​​concern.

Marcus Semien, one of the Texas Rangers’ record five starters in the 2023 All-Star Game, is baseball’s modern Iron Man. Now 32, his commitment to taking the field every game, a growing rarity in the sport, is well known. For Semien, his favorite compliments are therefore those that credit “my work ethic and the way I bring the same intensity every day,” he said.

Even more significant is when that old-school mentality is recognized by old-school managers who modeled that kind of dedication, like Bob Melvin when Semien played at Oakland, and now Bruce Bochy with the Rangers.

Shane McClanahan is a two-time All-Star and was named the opening day starter for the Tampa Bay Rays twice in his first three seasons. Yet in a team with perpetual contender aspirations and a need to maximize every ounce of ability, he worries about making his weight.

“Because as a pitcher, starting pitcher, I work once every five, six, sometimes seven days, and I don’t want to be the weak link,” McClanahan said. So the best compliment? “I’ve been told I compete like crazy, especially coming from my teammates.”

It took nearly a decade for Nick Castellanos to form his first All-Star team. After winning Rookie of the Year votes in 2014, it wasn’t until 2021 that he was named an All-Star. Last year he struggled in his first season after signing a $100 million free agent deal with the Phillies, but he was back in the All-Star Game at age 31 this season.

It means a lot to him that several coaches and managers have told him: “Your game is aging well”, as he said.

“I like that, you know, because to stay consistent for a long time in baseball, you have to take care of your business the right way,” Castellanos said. “If you don’t, either you better be really talented or you’re going to be eliminated.”

Ultimately, for athletes, the highest form of flattery is when your rivals are really, really frustrated that they have to compete against you.

“They’re always seekers,” former NL MVP Freddie Freeman said of those whose words resonate with him. As a first baseman, he has the opportunity to chat with opposing players, and about a decade into his career, he began to notice a particularly satisfying conversation with receivers who reach base.

“It’s always, ‘We have no idea how to get you out in pitching meetings.’ I think that’s the biggest compliment you can get – when you’re told they don’t know how to plan a game against you,” Freeman said. “A lot of the time they say, ‘We’re just trying. to throw in the middle and hope you get through it.””

Even smiling throughout his seventh All-Star Game media availability, Freeman stopped short of brandishing his success too ostentatiously. He chose not to specify the first time — or, really, none — that happened.

After all, he doesn’t want pitchers to find out that he knows they’re afraid of him.

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