Monday marked the annual All-Star Media Day – the day when the best in the world at swinging a wooden stick and throwing a cork ball are confined to a hotel ballroom and interrogated ruthlessly.
That may be a bit of an exaggeration. But it was a good day to ask questions and have them answered insightfully.
Many questions revolved around the two starting pitchers for the game, Zach Greinke of the Dodgers and Dallas Keuchel of the Astros. “[Greinke’s] pitching unbelievably right now,” said Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who is ineligible for the All-Star Game. “When he gets locked in like this, watch out.”
(Scherzer is ineligible because of an MLB rule that limits starters who pitched the Sunday before the All-Star break to pitching only one inning in the game, but only if they decide they want to play. Scherzer started against the Orioles on Sunday, July 12, which keeps him out of the All-Star Game.)
Houston second baseman Jose Altuve praised Kansas City Royals and American League manager Ned Yost’s decision to start Keuchel. “He’s a great guy, and I’m going to do everything I can to give him the chance to win,” Altuve said.
Another hot topic was the so-called “Royal Flush.” Kansas City has seemingly taken over the game, placing four players in the starting lineup and seven in the game itself.
“I think it’s an exciting thing for our fans,” Royals reliever Wade Davis told me. “You get to come represent the organization in the All-Star Game in a big way.”
“It’s awesome, because you get a chance to be around familiar faces,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain added. “Overall, it’s a great thing.”
The Royals aren’t the only team with a multitude of All-Stars. The world champion San Francisco Giants have four of their own, plus manager Bruce Bochy.
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is happy to be playing for a familiar face.
“It’s awesome, especially knowing he got to manage this game because we won the World Series last year,” Crawford said. “It’s great to have a manager that you know and have a relationship with.”
The paths players have taken to reach the All-Star Game are varied and many.
Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt bounced back and forth between Triple-A Sacramento and Oakland many times last year and spent much of the season as the A’s backup. Yet here he is.
“It’s been a lot of fun, going from a guy who’s been up and down [between the major and minor leagues],” Vogt said. “And now here I am at the All-Star Game.”
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira took an entirely different path to the Midsummer Classic.
He’s making his first All-Star appearance since 2009, having been derailed by injuries and frequent slumps. “I’m so blessed to be here,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted. It’s been a long road back from my wrist surgery.”
The stakes of the game were also discussed prominently among the players. The league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
“It’s definitely a big deal. It’s not the be-all end-all, but if anybody had a choice, they’d want to play Game 7 [of the World Series] in their home stadium,” said Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. As a three-time world champion, he knows firsthand how one game in July can pay off in October.
“I don’t know the stats for it, but I’d say the home team has won more often than not,” Bumgarner added. (He’s right: The home team has won nine of the last 10 World Series Game 7s.)
“The Yankees, we’ve played really good at home this year,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Our goal every year… is to make it to the World Series. I know when you get to that point, you’d love to have home-field advantage.”
One thing uniting all players was their excitement for the event itself.
“I told [teammates and first-time All-Stars Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu] that it goes quickly and to enjoy it,” said Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is making his fifth All-Star appearance. “Enjoy it, be yourself, and go out there and have fun.”
Photos: Patrick Andres (Trout), Jamie Squire/Getty Images (Royals), Rob Carr/Getty Images (Teixeira)