Young stars, exciting arms make All-Star debuts

Young stars, exciting arms make All-Star debuts

Young stars, exciting arms make All-Star debuts
For every player in the Majors, there is a first time for everything -- from his debut on a big-league field to his first hit, homer or victory on the mound.

For the select few, there's nothing quite like the first selection to the All-Star Game, a debut that could come early or late in one's career, but either way, brings chills that will last right through a whirlwind visit to the desert.

When the All-Stars convene in Phoenix on July 12, there will be 24 men who have experienced thrills in their Major League careers, but none quite like having his name announced while standing on the baseline at Chase Field alongside the game's greatest players.

There will be rising stars taking their rightful place among the elite, like the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp. There will be exciting arms new to the Midsummer Classic, like the Rays' James Shields and the Braves' Jair Jurrjens. There will be the quickly fulfilled promise of youth with Cubs 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro and 23-year-old Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Cabrera, the catalyst shortstop for the surprising Indians, was among those basking in the honor Sunday after rosters were announced, and absorbing the reality of a first trip to the All-Star Game.

"As soon as you play in the big leagues, you want to make the All-Star Game," Cabrera said. "I'm really happy right now."

It's an honor that's certainly worth the wait, as a couple of the soon-to-be All-Star performers know very well.

For a veteran like the Twins' Michael Cuddyer, the wait since his big league debut 10 years earlier was all worth it when his teammates held a closed-door meeting to celebrate the news Sunday morning.

"It's awesome. Words really can't describe it," said Cuddyer, a 32-year-old who has played six positions in his career and is playing three this year -- left field, first base and second base. "It's right up there with getting your first call to the big leagues. It's really special.

"You think of all the people who helped you from Little League on up, from your teammates to your coaches. It's a special time, not just for me, but for everybody."

For someone like Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who at 33 is the oldest first-timer this year, it's something that wasn't even on the radar three years ago, or even three months ago. Vogelsong spent 2007-09 in Japan and made his first Major League appearance since 2006 in April. He has since gone 6-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 starts and two relief appearances for the defending World Series champions.

"He's a big reason we're in first place," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the NL skipper who selected Vogelsong to the roster. "I just think this guy's a great story. I think he's very deserving. My question would be, 'Why not?'"

Vogelsong and all the newbies will be there at the 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game that will be played on July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix. It will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Cabrera will join closer Chris Perez as a two-man debut crew for the Tribe. Along with Cuddyer and Shields, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick, Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, Mariners closer Brandon League, A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez, Royals reliever Aaron Crow, Rangers starter C.J. Wilson and the young catching tandem of the Tigers' Alex Avila, voted in by the fans, and the Orioles' Matt Wieters are among the 13 first-timers in the AL.

In the NL, there are 11 first-time All-Stars, including Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, who won a narrow race in fan voting to gain a starting spot, along with Kemp, Castro, Vogelsong, Kershaw, Jurrjens, Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard, Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan and Braves reliever Jonny Venters.

This year's crop of new All-Stars isn't nearly as large yet as last year's record 33, of which only seven are returning for a second straight Midsummer Classic. Coming in the second year of 34-man rosters, this year's two dozen (so far) represent the eighth most first-timers on All-Star rosters, with 25 in 2001 and 27 in 2009 not far off, if additional All-Star rookies are added to the mix.

Like other years, the All-Star rosters honor some of the top performers of the first half of the season, and that's certainly true of the 2011 first-timers.

Kemp, for instance, is in contention in each of the Triple Crown categories, and tied for the NL lead with 22 homers after hitting 28 all last year. He joins Davey Lopes as the only Los Angeles Dodgers to have at least 20 homers and 20 steals before the All-Star break. Ellsbury, for another example, leads the AL in steals and has 100 hits.

On the mound, Shields has been superb, joining with fellow All-Star David Price to help the retooled Rays maintain a foothold in the difficult AL East. Jurrjens and Kershaw have been among the pitching leaders in the NL all season, as has Gonzalez in the AL.

Experience and youth obviously aren't barriers. Crow, a 24-year-old who began the season and his career with 15 1/3 scoreless innings and has 39 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings thus far, enters the game with the fewest innings pitched by an All-Star since Houston's John Hudek in 1994. And then there's Castro, the precocious shortstop who simply has wowed them at Wrigley and at 21 will become the youngest Cubs All-Star, a year younger than future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux was in 1988.

"I can only think at 21, potentially how many of these games he might get to show up in," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "I think he'll be even better than he is now, maybe way better."

There could be a few more first-timers with replacements for injury and other issues, and there are three potential first-timers in the Final Vote: D-backs right-hander Ian Kennedy, Nationals first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse and Royals left fielder Alex Gordon.

Already, a couple dozen players know they are about to experience the grandest individual occasion of their careers, playing among the elite in the All-Star Game.

"It would be an honor to be in the same locker room with the best of the best in this league. I've faced some of the best of the best in this league. So it's going to be an honor and a dream come true," said the Braves' Jurrjens.

For all of the first-timers, it's a reward for what they've done for their teams the first half of the season, and the reputations they've built over time. Once and for all, they're now All-Stars.

"You play this game hard enough, you want to have some special individual accolades," said Weeks.

For Weeks and the rest, this year's All-Star Game will be a first that will last forever.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for Reporters Jordan Bastian, Rhett Bollinger, Mark Bowman, Adam McCalvy and Carrie Muskat contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.