WASHINGTON -- Some players might expect to have a regular shot at making an All-Star team, but then there are the guys who never expected they'd get the opportunity or the honor of being in the Midsummer Classic. During their media availability on Monday before the All-Star Game, some of the biggest surprises on this year's squads talked about how they felt about making the trip to D.C.
Ross Stripling, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
In his second season in the majors in 2017, Stripling made 49 appearances but just two as a starter, one of those in the meaningless final game of the regular season as the team geared up for the postseason. He went 3-5 with a 3.75 ERA and two saves and began this season back in the Dodgers bullpen before making his first start on April 30. He has gone 8-2 in 14 starts with a 2.36 ERA and owns a season ERA of 2.08.
"Just to think of battling for a bullpen spot in spring training, to getting built up to being a starter, then guys get hurt, and just coming from an organization that a lot times might go to trades to find depth and they trust me take the ball every fifth day, it's been a motivation for me to keep that job, and to find my way here is just insane. It's pretty special and something I'll remember forever.
"I was a little stubborn about [buying into analytics] at first. It was kind of like, 'I made it to the big leagues, I can get guys out doing what I do,' then you get to the big leagues and struggle. You have to be coachable and you have to learn and you have to adapt. The way I did it was throwing my fastball up in the zone and then my curveball off of it and coming off the same plane.
"As a starter, you get moved to the bullpen and it feels like a demotion, so then you have to really get motivated to stay in the big leagues because you feel like you're one move away from Triple-A. I always wanted a chance to start. I always felt like I had a four-pitch mix, and the guys with a four-pitch mix typically are starters. I just wanted another shot at it. Luckily, I got a text from Dave Roberts when we were sitting in San Francisco about to go to Arizona, telling me I was going to start tomorrow, and I was pumped."
A two-way star in high school in South Korea, Choo signed with the Mariners in 2000 and reached the majors in 2005, becoming a regular for the Indians in 2008. Now in his fifth season with the Rangers, Choo is hitting .293/.405/.506 and enters the All-Star break having reached base in 51 consecutive games, the longest such streak by an active player at any point in their careers. Owner of a .380 career OBP, he's the oldest first-time All-Star since Raul Ibanez made it in 2009 at 37 years old.
"All-Star. Think about it: Thirty teams, best players in all the world to make up the 30 teams. So only a couple players from every team make it, right? That's a baseball gods' gift. I wished at the end of my career to make the All-Star team one time. I never set it up as a goal to make the All-Star team. My goal is always to be a champion with my team. That's my one goal. Skip -- [Jeff] Banister -- told me I made the team. He called a team meeting before game time and everybody panicked because we don't have team meetings. Banister came in and everybody raised their hands and he called my name, and there were a lot of congratulations and handshakes.
"I learned [English] from all my teammates. I came to America at 18 years old. Can't speak English, nothing at all. My first year, I had an interpreter; still my English wasn't getting better because you have help and I wasn't using it. So my third year, in spring training, I stopped using a translator. All three of my kids were born in the States and they speak English also."
Jed Lowrie, 2B, Oakland Athletics
In his 11th big league season, Lowrie has bounced around from Boston to Houston to Oakland back to Houston and back to Oakland for the past three seasons. He's hitting .285/.357/.492 and already has matched his career high with 16 home runs. At 34, he's a first-time All-Star.
"Ancient, right? I describe it as the icing on the cake. I feel like I've had a good career and I've gone through a lot of adversity and ups and downs, so to get here at this stage is pretty special. Baseball is hard. I think something we see with all these All-Stars [who have been released or traded at various points in their careers] is that players develop at different rates. A 162-game season is a long season, and even superstars can go through extended slumps. I wouldn't say teams are making mistakes, but that some players eventually learn and figure out how to maximize their ability. Look at J.D. Martinez. I was with him in Houston, and he always had the talent but made some changes to his swing, and now he's one of the best hitters in the game."
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Now in his ninth season in the majors, the 30-year-old reliever is 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA and three saves. Few players were as excited and grateful on Twitter when learning of their All-Star status. "Words can't express how I feel right now," he wrote. "#ASG bound. Thanks @Brewers and fans for believing in me." Jeffress' journey to being an All-Star began as a first-round pick of the Brewers in 2006 and included two suspensions in the minors for a "drug of abuse," reportedly marijuana. He has been traded to the Royals, purchased by the Blue Jays, signed as a minor league free agent by the Brewers, traded to the Rangers and then traded back to the Brewers last July.
"It's a dream come true, for sure. To be here in my hometown makes it a lot better. We've been having fun all season, and a lot of people are starting to notice what we've done as a club. Having five of us here means a lot to the city of Milwaukee and our team. All our personalities out there in the bullpen, they're coming together, they're clicking well, everyone is pulling for each other. Each and every day that we play, we root each other on. We've come off a tough month where we only had a couple of off days. Twenty-one days straight leading up to the All-Star break, so we're definitely excited for this little break.
"I just want to soak it all in. So have fun and represent your team as well as possible. I'm telling you, I'm loving it. To do all the hard work I've been through, the roads I've been through, and to be in this moment right here, I can't say anything else. It's great. This wasn't a realistic goal [as a middle reliever]. There were a lot of long workouts in the offseason, and in spring training everything came together, and this is where we are right now. That moment [when his teammates mobbed him in the clubhouse after his selection] was amazing. Everybody was saying I was deserving to come and there's always a next year, but when they announced my name, the whole clubhouse went crazy and everyone was so happy for me."
Charlie Morton, RHP, Houston Astros
The 34-year-old right-hander was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series last year when he allowed one run over the final four innings, and now he's a first-time All-Star in his 11th season. He's 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 112⅓ innings. During his career, he has had Tommy John surgery and he blew out his hamstring in 2016 and missed most of the season.
"I watched the Braves growing up [in Redding, Connecticut]. I watched the Yankees growing up. I watched the Mets. I listened to 660 The Fan, 'Mike and the Mad Dog.' I grew up in southern New England, but I was closer to New York than I was to Boston, so I grew up paying attention to New York teams. I never envisioned being a pro ballplayer until my senior year of high school. I was being scouted because I was pitching against a kid from maybe New Milford at the end of my junior year and a couple scouts saw me, and that was the first time I thought something like that could happen.
"Early on in my career, I didn't think I was going to get to the big leagues because it just seemed so far away and I wasn't pitching well. Even into '06, that was at high-A, I had a 5-something ERA. In '07, I was in and out of the bullpen in Double-A. Finally, I got to Triple-A with the Braves in Richmond, and that's when I started to pitch well. So you have six years of professional baseball before I put together a couple of good months. I got to the big leagues and it didn't work out, got sent down, back up, sent back down. It took me nine years before I got my first full season in [the majors]. So this whole time you're not thinking you're going to be an All-Star."
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Gennett was a 16th-round pick by the Brewers out of Sarasota (Fla.) High School and spent his first four seasons with Milwaukee. The Brewers put him on waivers late in spring training in 2017, and the Reds claimed him. He had a four-homer game on his way to a 27-homer season last year and now enters the All-Star break leading the NL with a .326 average.
"The first three years of my career, I was mostly facing righties, and it was a grind, but I got a chance last year to face lefties pretty much on a regular basis. I would say my last year with [the Brewers], in '16, it was about relaxing my hands and not trying to do too much. The end result was I was swinging at better pitches. As hitters, if we're more tight, naturally our swings get a little longer, and we know the only way to hit the ball is to start our swings a little early and that results in swinging at bad pitches. When I relax my hands, I have more time, I'm quicker to the ball, shorter to the ball, and that helped generate more power. But it was a grind just to get to that point.
"I feel like there's some photos of me when I was real little in a Reds uniform [Gennett was born in Cincinnati]. For some reason, I think I always had a ball of some sort in my hands. I just remember going to games at Riverfront Stadium, at Cinergy Field, seeing Barry Larkin play and all those guys, and it was what I wanted to do since I was 4 or 5 years old, dreaming of being in the big leagues and playing for the Reds. It's crazy how some things work out."