How Veteran Players Are Embracing Their First All-Star Experience

The All-Star squads have taken on an unusual shape this year as a swath of 30-plus-year-old players are enjoying their first experience at the Midsummer Classic.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Blake Treinen found out he had made his first All-Star team, celebrated, and promptly tried to give his spot away. It was an honor, of course. He’d dreamed about being here since he was a child. And he’d put together an impressive first half.

But so had Jed Lowrie. 

“He totally deserves to be here,” says Treinen, the A’s closer, of his teammate. “I wouldn’t have my [save] opportunities if he didn’t have hits late in the game.”

So Treinen approached a clubhouse staffer and asked if he could withdraw from the game in favor of the Oakland second baseman.

“I don’t think that’s how that works,” the staffer said. You’re not allowed to pick a successor. Treinen pointed out that each team needs a representative; without him, the A’s wouldn’t have one, and Lowrie would be an obvious candidate. He asked the staffer to look into it. It was Lowrie’s production that got his attention, Treinen says, but he admits there was another factor: “He’s been in the league for 11 years.”

In many ways, the Midsummer Classic matters less than it ever has. Interleague play has diluted the excitement of watching Orioles shortstop Manny Machado face Nationals righthander Max Scherzer, as they likely will in the early innings of Tuesday’s game; they’ve already met twice this season. There are no obvious faces of baseball to captivate casual fans. And the sport in general is growing less popular; MLB is on pace to draw nearly 5 million fewer fans to ballparks than last year. It’s easy to write off the whole exercise as meaningless.

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And then a 32-year-old first baseman from Mississippi gets choked up as his teammates smother him in hugs and he sneaks off to call his wife in the hour before his game starts. “I gotta go,” Boston’s Mitch Moreland told Susannah last week. “But I made the All-Star team.”

There are nine first-time All-Stars in their 30s this year—Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, 36; Indians catcher Yan Gomes, 30; Blue Jays lefthander J.A. Happ, 35; Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, 30; Lowrie, 34; Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis, 34; Moreland; Astros righty Charlie Morton, 34; and Treinen, 30—and every one of them looks like a child when he discusses the experience.

Jeffress broke down completely when Brewers manager Craig Counsell made the announcement. Jeffress screamed, then cried—“tears of happiness, tears of hard work,” he says—and called his parents.

Lowrie could barely squeak out, “I’m going,” to his wife, Milessa, when manager Bob Melvin called and told him he had made the team. It all worked out in the end—Lowrie was chosen as a replacement (for injured Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, not for Treinen).

Lowrie suffered a brief injury scare when he collided with rightfielder Stephen Piscotty the same day he got the call from Melvin, but he resolved to be in Washington no matter what.

Many All-Star veterans who hit the disabled list skip the game and take a vacation. Everyone has heard of a guy who’s been four or five times and starts campaigning against himself. But Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw loves the festivities so much that even when he herniated a disc after being selected to the team in 2016, he made the trip to Petco Park to take part in his sixth straight Midsummer Classic. (He has a 2.74 ERA this year but has missed nearly two months with injuries and was left off the roster.) Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, who has a pinched nerve in his left foot, had two questions for the team when he learned he was hitting the DL: When can I come off? And can I still do the All-Star Game stuff?

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“I can’t imagine sitting out any of this,” he says. This is the second trip to the event for Doolittle, 31, but he says the intervening time—his first appearance came in 2014—has made him realize how hard it is to get here, especially as a pitcher, who does not qualify for the fan vote and must be chosen by his peers. “I was willing to do the Home Run Derby,” he deadpans. “I don’t know if that swung the needle in my favor.”

In some ways the first-timers’ exuberance buoys everyone else. Players can get jaded and start taking these things for granted. But when a 24-year-old who’s already made the team a few times watches Markakis tear down his media day nameplate to save as a souvenir, how else can he feel but thrilled?

Markakis had long been statistically one of the best players never to make an All-Star team. He is also famously reluctant to weather press conferences. But he was so thrilled at his selection that he smiled throughout his media session—and encouraged his three sons to participate. Taylor, 9; Tucker, 8; and Toby, 5, shared a bottle of apple juice and listened patiently, dressed in MARKAKIS 22 All-Star jerseys their mom, Christina, bought the day the rosters were announced.

With his kids beside him, he’s been in a reflective mood these last few days. If someone had told him when he started that he could only play in one of these, when would he have wanted it? As a young player or as a veteran?

“Now,” he says. “I’ll always remember it, but if I were there by myself I’d only be able to remember it for myself. I’m more excited for them than for myself.”

Not everyone is feeling so generative. Jeffress considers the question, grins and says, “I would have liked it the first year!”