July 12, 2010

Two days before the 2005 All-Star Game, my wife Christi and I were exactly half way between Minute Maid Park and Hobby Airport in Houston when my phone started to ring. My heart sank. When I looked at my phone I saw that the caller was the GM of the Astros, Tim Purpura.

"It's Tim," I said.

That single comment was enough for Christi to start crying. We both knew what he would say: I had made the National League All-Star team. In every other circumstance we would be happy, but this All Star break was special. Let me explain.

We had lost three babies to miscarriage in the previous two years, a very difficult experience. But now Christi was pregnant with identical twin boys and we were going back to the place we were married, Lake Tahoe. Christi's aunt, Sue, owns a cabin on the water in Rubicon Bay. It is a special place for us because we were married on that beach. It is our favorite place in the world. But it would have to wait because now instead of going to the lake I was going to Detroit for the All-Star Game.

At the time, baseball was going great. Personally, I was in some sort of dream, batting .290 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs for the Astros, and our team was surging. On May 24, 2005 we were just 15-30. On the day of this phone call, we were 44-43 and back in the hunt for a playoff spot, which we eventually secured.

Whenever I think about picking up the phone in the back of the car I am reminded how strange life works. Right before I answered, I thought to myself, "I'm an All Star? How can this be? I'm from Hermosa Beach. Our dads coached us. I didn't get a scholarship in college. I was a 9th round draft pick as a senior. Now I'm an All Star?"

I looked at Christi with a concerned look and said, "I'm sorry, babe." She gave a little smile and nodded. She was sad and she was happy. But her pain was that baseball rules over our lives during the season. When the team tells you to go somewhere, you go. I don't want this to sound like I am complaining at all. It isn't that. It is the feeling we all have that we are not in control of our lives. It is tough to handle even when you are blessed to do something you love.

My left thumb pushed the answer button and I said, "Hello?"

"Hey Morgan! It's Tim. Congratulations, you are an All Star!"

"Thank you Tim! This is unbelievable. What should I do?"

"We are making arrangements for you right now. You will fly out tomorrow morning. Good luck. You really deserve this, Morgan."

"Thanks, Tim. I can't believe it!"

I hung up the phone and said, "Driver, we need to turn around."

The next morning, Christi and I were on a plane to Detroit. We reached the hotel and put our bags down. My parents and Christi's parents were flying in that day. It would have been great to just crash on the bed, but downstairs was a banquet room filled with reporters and I needed to be there in five minutes.

Walking into the banquet room was strange. Each player had a chair and a folding table. On the wall behind each desk was a sign with our names on it. John Smoltz...Jeff Kent...Roger Clemens...Albert Pujols...Morgan Ensberg.

Morgan Ensberg...I made it!

Just as I sat down some of the reporters came over with smiles. Reporters and I got along really well. Probably because I talked to them and treat them with respect.

"Well congratulations, Morgan" one of them said. "This had to be a surprise?"

"It sure was!" I said with smile. "Christi and I were in the car half way to the airport when Tim called."

The reporter said, "You're kidding me. In the car? Where were you going?"

"We were heading to Lake Tahoe to meet up with Scott and Kelly Linebrink." (Scott was pitching for the Padres at the time and we were close. Our relationship revolves around him telling me how great Texas is and me asking him if all Texans wear their pants that high.)

The reporter just shook his head with a smile, "That is amazing. Well good luck! I'll see you later on today during batting practice."

The interviews lasted an hour and I repeated that story about 40 times. My jaw became sore from smiling so much while telling the story.

When it was over, it was time to go to Comerica Park for batting practice. I have never seen so many people on a baseball field in my life. The media filled foul territory from third base to first base. It was packed so much that we didn't have room to take practice swings to get loose outside the batting cage.

As I took my cuts I kept feeling like this wasn't real. My group had Pujols, Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds in it -- I loved it.

The outfield was filled with other guys I knew. Jake Peavy was out there. Dontrelle Willis was talking to Jimmy Rollins. Bobby Abreu, who I played with in Venezuela, was out there talking to Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Beltran. But the guy I wanted to talk to most was Smoltz, the best pitcher I ever faced. We spoke for a while and it was really fun. I asked him to stop throwing 100 mph and he said, "No." What was I going to say, "Ok. Fine, throw 100 mph." I'm thinking, "Dude, I'm totally joking around with John Smoltz -- and he's laughing!"

We lost the game that night. I got two at bats. The first was against Joe Nathan and I popped up on the first pitch. My second at bat was against some guy name Mariano Rivera. I came out of my shoes three times in a row and drew nothing. He struck me out on three cutters at 94 mph. He's good.

The next morning, Christi and I boarded a plane and headed back to Houston and that offseason we made it back to Lake Tahoe. We go there every year but that was my one and only appearance in the Midsummer Classic.

Morgan Ensberg, All Star -- I've even got the video to prove it!

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