PHOENIX – Michael Young stood on the first-base line with a couple of Rangers teammates during pregame introductions and smiled. Young looked around and saw an All-Star Game in Arizona that had a Texas flair to it.
There was manager Ron Washington, firing up his squad with a pregame speech and flashing that broad, infectious smile. And outfielder Josh Hamilton, making his fourth consecutive start after an emotional weekend and getting a lift from the sellout crowd at Chase Field with a nice ovation when he was introduced. He added a hit in the fourth. Third baseman Adrian Beltre got a chance to start for the first time and hit behind Hamilton, something he’s done many times this season. He also had a hit.
Despite a rough fourth inning in which he allowed a three-run, go-ahead homer to Prince Fielder and took the loss, Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson soaked up the entire experience as a first-time participant. He took photographs and tweeted during the Home Run Derby and spent time chatting with his teammates. Alexi Ogando got to pitch to two batters, needing just six pitches to retire Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto on ground balls.
But there was Young, standing in the dugout enjoying the game and then trotting out to third base late as a reserve. Young refuses to take the All-Star Game for granted.
Sure, he wouldn’t mind three days of quality time with his wife, Cristina, and young sons Mateo and Emilio. But getting the All-Star break off is something Young has experienced only once in the last eight seasons (2010). He’s been a constant at the game, usually selected by his peers to join the midseason party. It’s a testament to his ability to play outstanding baseball on a consistent basis.
“It’s nice to get a break, but you always want to be an All-Star,” Young said.
He was back on Tuesday, selected at his third different position (and playing at his fourth different position in the All-Star Game), something few players can claim.
Young said there’s something special about each of his All-Star trips. On Tuesday, it was the strong Texas theme that Young will remember most.
“For me, having this many guys I play with here and having our staff here makes it really fun,” Young said. “I’ve never had an opportunity to go with so many people from our organization. This is fun.”
For Young, 2011 has been a different season. He moved to designated hitter and has had to learn how to pace himself during games to be ready to hit. He's learning how to play first base and getting reacquainted with second and third. But where he plays on the field doesn't seem to impact his at-bats. Young is still hitting over .300 and driving in runs (second most on the team). Washington has called him the first-half MVP.
“He’s been very important,” Washington said. “He’s had unselfish play. He’s done whatever has been asked of him to do. He hasn’t one time complained about anything. There was talk about how he was going to play all these different positions and how he was going to do, but I think he’s put all that to rest.”
Young said he’s happy as a Ranger and has moved on past an offseason that included his request to be traded.
“I think a lot of things got twisted and turned as to why everything happened in the offseason, but it’s over with now,” Young said. “I’m completely focused on the present and that’s playing winning baseball with a great group of teammates and a really good coaching staff.
“It’s easy for me to focus on that right now. When I go to the ballpark I see people and teammates I genuinely like and respect and I really want them to do well. It’s a great place to come to work every day and in that sense it makes every day fun.”
Young admitted after Tuesday’s game that he thought about the fact that it was his first time on the losing end of an All-Star Game. But now that it’s over, he’ll focus on the second half and other goals.
“Those goals start and end with team,” Young said. “But there are definitely things in my career I’d like to accomplish. I think that’s part of being an athlete. You are driven toward goals. I’m the same way. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. I want to keep those inside, because I think it’s good to keep the fire burning inside. My goals start with health and consistency. If I do those things, I feel I’ll find ways to always be productive.”
And if he does those things, he hopes he’ll keep getting invited to the All-Star Game.
“It’s always fun to be here,” Young said. “You never get tired of that.”