NEW YORK -- Dioner Navarro sits quietly with four Tampa Bay Rays teammates at a clubhouse table and watches a friendly game of cards before their game against the New York Yankees. But on the inside, Navarro is perhaps a little anxious, knowing he has a spot on the 2008 American League All-Star roster.
With a team-best .312 average and as the starting catcher of the team with the third-best staff ERA (3.60) in the majors, it's not surprising that the young Venezuelan was selected to play in the All-Star Game by manager Terry Francona.
Tampa Bay Rays
Navarro, who began his career with the Yankees in 2004, hopes this is the first of many trips to the Midsummer Classic. He made it just in time to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium.
"Getting back to Yankee Stadium, the organization where I started in Major League Baseball, to be surrounded by all those great players, I truly don't know what to say," the 24-year-old catcher from Caracas told ESPNdeportes.com Tuesday night. "I've been thinking so many things, and we still have a week to go. I'm just going to try to enjoy it as much as possible and hope it's not the last [All-Star selection]."
In 2007, his first year as a starting catcher, Navarro hit .227 for the Rays. But his work in the Venezuelan winter league during the offseason and in spring training has made a big difference this year.
"I worked very hard during the offseason and, well, it's paying dividends now," Navarro said. "I worked on everything during the offseason. I worked with the trainers, strength conditioning. I played for a month in Venezuela, and I think that helped a lot, and I'm extremely happy of all the results that I'm getting now."
Even with his stellar batting average, Navarro's focus on handling pitchers and defense remains steadfast.
"My philosophy has always been, 'I don't care about what I do at the plate but about what I do behind the plate,'" Navarro said.
"We worked very hard, the pitchers and catchers, during the offseason. I think that having been with the team an extra year has helped a lot to get to know them, their personalities -- to know them a little bit better."
A first for the Rays
Navarro's surprising season and All-Star Game selection notwithstanding, the real revelation thus far has been the Rays' ability to remain in contention. With the betting world giving them a 50,000-to-1 chance of winning the World Series at the start of the season, perhaps the only ones not shocked by this turn of events are the Rays' players.
"I think everybody was ready," Navarro said. "Everybody here said, 'Well, this is our year.' I think we can do it [get to the postseason], and I think our mentality from the start, from spring training, was, 'We can do it, we can win and we'll take care of business.' And we're doing a great job so far."
The Rays are set on a historic path. Of the nine major league clubs that have played sub.-450 ball for 10 straight seasons, none have been able to lead their league or win the World Series in the 11th season. Excluding the Rays, only two of the eight teams with 10 straight seasons under .450 were able to rise over the .500 hump the next year.
"I think that the acquisitions we made during the offseason have helped us mightily: [Troy] Percival, [Cliff] Floyd, [Eric] Hinske," Navarro said. "Those guys have helped, and the harmony and the chemistry that we have between all our players right now is very good, and we hope it continues the rest of the season."
Navarro said acquiring more talent before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline is not a top priority in the Rays' quest for the postseason.
"All we need to do is to keep doing what we've being doing up to now -- don't try to do more than we can, do the little things, that's it," Navarro said. "If each one of us keeps contributing in their own way, everything will turn out fine.
"I don't think we need anyone else. I think that with the group we have, we can do it. But you never know, you know? We don't have any control over those things, the players. They [the front office] know what they are doing, and I think that, if they make a move, the move will be for our benefit."