Midsummer Classic full of self-made All-Stars
Mid-round Draft picks surprise plenty by earning calls to Citi Field showcase
NEW YORK -- Looking back on it, they think that having people doubt them may have helped some.
"I think it kind of lit a fire under both of us," Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig said. "We really had to fight and claw for everything. It's pretty cool we're both here."
Second baseman Matt Carpenter, Craig's teammate, understands.
"For the two of us to experience this together is pretty cool," Carpenter said. "A lot of hard work paid off."
Neither of these Cards was drafted after their junior seasons in college. Which means that 30 Major League teams didn't think they had the right stuff.
One of the sweetest things about this All-Star Game are the players like Craig and Carpenter who took a more difficult path to this point in their careers. Today we celebrate them, too.
D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is here, too, after being taken in the eighth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. You know what that means? Scouts for every Major League team couldn't envision a great career for him. Even those who loved Goldschmidt's work ethic, smarts and heart wondered if he had enough of the right stuff to make it.
Four years later, Goldschmidt is leading the National League with 77 RBIs and is about to be part of his first All-Star Game. He's a reminder that all All-Stars aren't born, that sometimes they're made with sweat and hard work and proving people wrong.
"Everyone has doubters," Goldschmidt said. "I don't feel I've overcome that much. I'm just like everyone else. It's a journey."
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and Pirates closer Jason Grilli are among the other 2013 All-Stars who had some hurdles to overcome, some people to prove wrong. Or as Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar said, "Two years ago, if you'd told me I'd be at the All-Star Game, I'd asked where I was supposed to pick up my ticket."
Back to Craig and Carpenter. They eventually got a chance. Craig was a 2008 eighth-round pick after his senior season at California. A year later, Carpenter was taken in the ninth round after his fifth year at TCU.
Craig almost got released in Rookie ball, and as both of them climbed the ladder through the Minor Leagues, there were still questions.
"I couldn't afford to have a bad year in the Minor Leagues," Craig said. "I just hoped they'd find a position for me later. It's kind of funny, we've had such similar career paths. We both bounced around on the defensive side of it. We've always hit coming up. When we got to the big leagues, we both got into that bench role to start off and learned how to be productive."
Both have learned way more than that and were rewarded with berths on the NL All-Star team. They got to the Major Leagues by virtue of their hitting, and they have continued to hit, both their names dotted among the NL leaderboard.
"I think it'd be if you could really judge what's inside of a guy," Craig said. "All scouts would love to know that."
Grilli turned 36 last fall and is playing for his sixth organization. He probably was long since past the point of thinking he'd ever make it to an All-Star Game.
For Grilli, the challenge was to keep proving he belonged. Plenty of people were surprised after last season when Pirates general manager Neal Huntington traded his closer, Joel Hanrahan, to the Red Sox for a setup man named Mark Melancon.
The Bucs believed Grilli could close for them, which is a huge leap of faith for someone who had five career saves in his first 10 Major League seasons.
"Look," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said, "whenever Jason has been challenged, he has done well. We feel really good about Jason."
Hurdle spoke those words during Spring Training when he was asked about Grilli. Five months later, Grilli is leading the NL with 29 saves and is one of the improbable All-Stars. He's here with Melancon, who has been one of baseball's best setup men.
"It's emotional," Grilli said. "I've been through a lot. I've worked my butt off to get here. To finally be selected is a personal victory."
Davis grew up in East Texas dreaming of playing first base for the Texas Rangers. When the Rangers took him in the fifth round of the 2006 Draft, he was thrilled. Davis was in the big leagues two years later, and even with Josh Hamilton on the roster, Texas thought Davis might be the better power hitter.
When Davis hit 21 home runs in 2009, the Rangers thought his time had arrived. And then he hit .192 the next season. Davis' confidence and swing seemed shattered. At the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline, he was traded to the Orioles.
That's when O's manager Buck Showalter worked his magic. He told Davis he believed in him in a way the Rangers never did. Showalter said together they would do great things.
And so Davis is here, too, leading the big leagues with 37 home runs and on a pace to hit 60.
"The biggest thing was knowing I was getting another opportunity," Davis said. "There were times in Texas where I'd kind of worn out my welcome. Knowing I was getting another shot in Baltimore was exciting."
It's great to have Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and baseball's other young stars being introduced before the All-Star Game, but it'll also be great to see people like Goldschmidt and Carpenter and Davis, the guys who had to do more than just perform.
"You know, it makes you appreciate how special this game is and how hard it is," Davis said.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.