Inside the Fun of Players' 1st-Time All-Star Game Experiences, Young and Old

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistJuly 16, 2015

Elsa/Getty Images

CINCINNATI — An All-Star Game is one part baseball, one part paparazzi and one part People magazine.

For first-timers, it is all of these things with the volume turned up.

Hot couples? Got one for you straight from the people-watching pages of your favorite celebrity glossy. Perhaps nobody was more thrilled Tuesday night than Amy Crawford, kid sister of San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.

She's the longtime girlfriend of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.

Which means, finally, she had two of her favorite guys on one team she could root for.

"It's the first time where there's not mixed emotions," Cole said Monday afternoon, midway through the All-Star festivities. "Everybody gets to pull for the same side."

So there he was Monday morning, an All-Star rookie, he and Amy spending some quality time with Brandon, Brandon's wife, Jalynne, and their two children, Braylyn, two and a half, and Jaydyn, 16 months.

"Very cool experience," Cole said. "His first time here and my first time here, being able to share it.

"I wouldn't want it any other way."

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Monday night, the adults—Gerrit, Amy, Brandon and Jalynne—escaped for dinner at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, one of Cincinnati's hottest restaurants.

"Really good," Crawford said.

Meantime, Monday night was memorable in a different way for Cubs rookie sensation Kris Bryant. It isn't every rookie who is invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. And fewer still get to have their father as their pitcher.

But there Mike Bryant was, not only on the mound while Kris was pounding baseballs over the Great American Ball Park fences, but there in the clubhouse with his own locker.

"He was happy, I was happy," Kris said. "I just wanted to share the moment with him. That was another thing on his bucket list."

No question, that was the All-Star highlight for Kris.

But here is a question: Was the highlight watching his father pitch or watching his father dive into the clubhouse grub?

"I walked into the kitchen, and he's got a plate of food," Bryant said, chuckling. "That's my dad for you.

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier got to meet his boyhood hero, John Smoltz. For wide-eyed Boston first-timer Brock Holt, the three days here were almost like attending a memorabilia show. Holt has recently started collecting autographed jerseys, and when you look across the room and see Albert Pujols over there, David Price over here and Chris Sale at the next locker over, wow.

Revelations come quickly. I asked Detroit outfielder J.D. Martinez whether there was one All-Star in the clubhouse whom Martinez came in thinking was a real jerk but, upon meeting him, discovered the opposite.

"Chris Sale," Martinez said, smiling. "You face him on the mound, it's not very fun. But sitting here talking, he seems like a great guy."

Funny how that works here. Fierce competitors one day, fast friends the next.

Cue that old television theme song. Friends? You bet. The All-Star Game is all about friends, too. Especially on a guy's first trip. You want to share the experience with everyone.

Or you're simply forced to adjust midsummer vacation plans on the fly.

Jun 17, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels pitcher Hector Santiago against the Arizona Diamondbacks during an interleague game at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Angels pitcher Hector Santiago, 27, is a five-year veteran to whom you might say the All-Star Game came as a sudden, unexpected delight. As in, he learned he was named to the team Sunday as the Angels wrapped up the first half of their season in Seattle.

He was thrilled. He was overjoyed. He also was...out a heck of a lot of money and reaching out to friends as quickly as he could.

Three of them were flying from New Jersey to Phoenix to hang with him during the All-Star break. Suddenly, they had to be redirected.

"I booked their flights two months ago," Santiago said.

So they wound up flying from New Jersey to Arizona, landed, jumped on another plane and headed back east to Cincinnati.

When he came in from Sunday's game in Seattle, Santiago said, he had 389 text messages.

"It was, 'Where do I start?'" he said. "'Who do I text first?'"

Parents. That's always a good place to start.

"It's definitely life-changing," Santiago said of being named an All-Star. "As I was calling my father, I thought, 'This is going to be a pretty good phone call.'"

According to Hector, it went something like this:

"You made it?!"

"Yes. Are you coming?"

"Of course I'm coming. Just book the flight. Don't even ask."

Said Santiago: "He was ready to hang up on me right then just so we could hurry up and book the flight."

They did, and the path was cleared for a party of 10 for Santiago in Cincinnati, his parents, fiancee, friends and younger brother among them. Cool story there, too: Santiago's brother, Anthony, is a bullpen catcher for the White Sox's rookie-level club in Arizona. Because Hector grew up in the Chicago organization and was so well-liked, the Sox gave Anthony time off to go see his brother's All-Star debut in Cincinnati.

Ears likely will be ringing for weeks for some of these guys, and not just because of the sold-out and raucous crowd in Great American Ball Park.

No, the din created by the raucous crowds on the streets of Cincinnati during the red-carpet parade will do that trick. Talk about a rush; several first-time All-Stars claimed that as their favorite moment of all.

"The Home Run Derby was amazing, but the parade today..." Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera said Tuesday evening. "It's great here."

Herrera had seven people stuffed into his Chevrolet pickup truck during the parade: his mother, wife, son and some friends.

John Minchillo/Associated Press

"People kept shouting, 'Welcome to Cincinnati! Welcome to Cincinnati! Enjoy!'" Herrera said. "Good things."

Dinners, baseball, applause, baseball, parties, baseball...it's like the old line: Some of these guys will have to go back to work in the second half of the season to get some rest.

Rays first-timer Chris Archer followed old teammate and good friend Price around for three days like, as Archer said, "a little sidekick." Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett, a first-timer at 38, was named an All-Star in the nick of time before he retires after the season.

"I can finally say I've done it all," Burnett said. "I've got my ring [World Series from the '03 Marlins and '09 Yankees] and now an All-Star appearance."

And he had his sons, Allan Jr. (14) and Ashton (11), with him at Monday's press availability.

"It was so much fun," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt, a surprise All-Star at 30, said. "Getting to catch Archer was probably the highlight for me. We played together in Tampa in 2011 and 2012, we came up through the minors together, and we're really good friends.

"That was a special moment for me."

There are few degrees of separation in baseball—even at the All-Star Game.

For some, All-Star appearances mean cold, hard cash. Though in the afterglow of Tuesday night's game while packing their bags and rushing home in hopes of getting a few hours off before the second half begins, bonus clauses weren't exactly at the forefront of the conversation.

"No," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said when asked if he has an All-Star bonus clause in his contract. "It was worth it, though. I had a blast. This was a great experience."

Said Vogt: "I have no idea if I have a bonus. I'm on a pre-arbitration contract."

In other words, no. Probably not.

The Twins' Dozier does. This week's appearance was worth an extra $25,000 to him. Says so right there in his four-year, $20 million deal.

Brian Dozier gets five from Brock Holt after his All-Star Game home run.
Brian Dozier gets five from Brock Holt after his All-Star Game home run.Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

"I'm sure my wife will see it sooner or later," Dozier quipped.

When someone mentioned maybe she'll buy him a new car, he crinkled his face like he had just grounded into a double play.

"Buy me some more duck-hunting gear or something," he said, laughing. "Not a car."

Quack. Before you know it, the dog days of summer will be upon them and, for some, they'll wonder whether this week really happened.

"It's kind of hard to let it truly sink in," the Cubs' Bryant said. "There are a lot of events.

"I think the next couple of days will give me a chance to truly look back on it. I'll look at all of the pictures in my phone."

And maybe only then, like a true millennial, will all of this seem real.

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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