Jones passes torch to Trout & Harper
Last- and first-time All-Stars reflect changing of the guard in the All-Star Game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Before his final All-Star Game, 40-year-old Chipper Jones stood in front of his National League teammates and delivered the sort of stirring, heartfelt baseball speech normally reserved for an Iowa cornfield. Chipper acknowledged later that he got rather emotional while speaking, but lest anyone get the wrong impression, he categorically denied there were any tears.
"I don't want to stand up here and get all gooey in front of the younger bucks. They might think I'm getting soft," said Chipper, who plans to retire after the season. "I really wanted to impress upon them to take advantage of this opportunity, to soak it up, have fun. You never know when your last one is going to be."
Indeed. Many players have had a great two or three months only to wind up as a trivia question in the "Whatever Happened To?" category. So despite all the hype associated with Bryce Harper coverage, who knows whether the Nationals outfielder or fellow rookie Mike Trout will play in another All-Star Game or how long their careers will last.
Although Chipper has a pretty good idea.
"After they've been in 15 or 20 All-Star Games, I'll tell my kids I was in their first," Chipper said. "Those two kids right there are going to be the face of baseball. Pretty soon. As guys like myself and [Derek] Jeter and A-Rod shuffle off, the torch is going to be passed to those guys. Those two are going to be the marquee guys for years to come. I would say that the game of baseball is in pretty good hands."
The 19-year-old Harper's debut was met with incredible hype and anticipation, but now that the dust has settled, it's clear the 20-year-old Trout is having the superior season, leading his counterpart in almost every meaningful statistic. If his second half is as impressive as his first, the Angels outfielder could join Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as the only rookies to win the MVP award.
He also had the superior All-Star Game. Entering the game in the sixth inning, Trout faced R.A. Dickey's knuckleball in his first at-bat and Aroldis Chapman's 102 mph fastball in his second. "Me and Mark Trumbo were talking about that in the dugout," he said. "You don't know where the knuckleball is going and the heater, if you blink, it's by you."
Nonetheless, Trout singled and stole a base against Dickey to become the youngest player to get a hit in an All-Star Game since Al Kaline in 1955. He walked against Chapman.
Meanwhile, Harper started off his first All-Star Game well enough. He walked in his first plate appearance in the fifth inning. Then he tagged up and hustled to second on a fly out. And then things kind of went downhill.
He was caught too far off second base on a grounder to the pitcher and thrown out in a rundown. In the bottom of the fifth, he completely lost an easy fly ball against the dusk sky and the ball landed several yards behind him. Kansas City's scoreboard operators immediately responded by showing a clip from "The Sandlot" in which a boy has a fly ball smack him in the head.
"There you go," Harper said. "I didn't get hit in the head, so I think I'm doing OK."
Harper also struck out looking.
"Being able to sit there with Chipper in the dugout for the first five innings was an unbelievable experience," Harper said. "It was so much fun just sitting there talking with him and shooting the bull. It was pretty amazing. He's just an unbelievable player and it was pretty special getting to meet him."
"I met Tony La Russa after the game," Trout said. "Congratulating Chipper was just an incredible feeling. I grew up watching him as a kid. It was pretty surreal.
"I sat down and ate with [Jeter] yesterday and today. We had a few conversations. I was actually on deck and I looked back in the dugout and Jeter started pumping his chest. And I didn't know what he was talking about. He asked, 'Are you nervous?' So I started looking around and [my heart] started pumping a little."
After the game, Harper packed a box of souvenirs to ship home. As he tossed a box of All-Star baseballs, jerseys and the nameplate from his locker, La Russa stopped by to shake his hand.
"He told me, 'With all the fame and fortune that will come your way, don't change your game, don't change your mentality. Be the person you are, be Bryce."
It was similar to the advice Chipper gave Trout. "He said, keep rolling, always work hard and stay humble and go out and be myself."
One likely Hall of Famer played his final All-Star Game on Tuesday. Asked whether he wants to play in more, Trout replied, "Hopefully. If I get another opportunity."
And with any luck, he and Harper may one day be giving emotional speeches to the following generation.