A record of 5 rookie All-Stars

Published 8:53 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ryan Cook thought about the assembled stars and wondered whether he belonged.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Huh, I don’t know,”’ Oakland’s rookie closer said before adding: “When we get on the field, I think I fit in just fine.”

He is among a record five rookie All-Stars picked for Tuesday night’s game, joined by Washington outfielder Bryce Harper, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Texas pitcher Yu Darvish and Arizona pitcher Wade Miley.

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When Miley arrived for spring training, he wasn’t thinking about taking his place among the Jeters and Verlanders.

“I was kind of packed to go to Reno,” he said. “I was surprised I made the team and in the same sense thrilled.”

Before coming to the U.S. during the offseason, Darvish was a five-time All-Star in Japan’s Pacific League. Those All-Star games are nothing like this one.

“They build up this event a lot more here,” he said through a translator. “I know how special it is to be selected.”

Harper, just 19, and the 20-year-old Trout form baseball’s youthful dynamic duo.

Harper is the youngest position player in All-Star history and a key part of the Washington Nationals’ emergence as a first-place team. Trout, a year older, is leading the American League in hitting and helping the Los Angeles Angels turn around their season after a sloppy start.

Coincidentally, both came up to the major leagues on April 28, Harper for his debut and Trout for his return following a pair of stints last year.

In a room full of baseball’s best, even the veterans are taking notice of Harper and Trout.

“Speed. Power. Excitement. Youth. Energy,” Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson said. “If they are able to stay healthy, they can completely transform the game as they get, five, 10, 15 years of big league time.”

For now, both will start Tuesday night’s game on the bench.

With the result determining home-field advantage in the World Series for the 10th straight year, AL manager Ron Washington will start reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. The NL’s Tony La Russa, the first inactive All-Star manager since the AL’s Bob Lemon in 1979, chose San Francisco’s Matt Cain — coming off a perfect game last month — over knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.

Trout was on a flight from Salt Lake City to Cleveland when he saw on Twitter that Harper was being called up the same day. Trout hadn’t let many people know he was joining the big league team.

“Knowing he was getting called up that same day was pretty funny,” Trout said.

A son of former Minnesota minor league infielder Jeff Trout, Mike was taken by the Angels with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. Idolizing Derek Jeter, he played shortstop at Millville Senior High in New Jersey until he was moved to the outfield in his senior year. He understands why he lasted so late in the first round.

“A lot of risk. East Coast kid. Didn’t play all year,” he said. “You look at the teams in Florida and California, they’ve got perfect weather all year. They can play all year.”

Harper had the greater renown, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was just 16 with the headline “CHOSEN ONE.” With sunglasses hanging from the top of his shirt and a neatly cropped beard, he has the big league look. A hint of acne reveals he’s still a teenager.

“So much pressure — no, I’m just kidding,” he said, joshing with the media.

Joining a Nationals team that already has a top youthful star in ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Harper has a .282 batting average with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 63 games. The only younger All-Stars were Bob Feller in 1938 and Dwight Gooden in 1984, both closer to their 19th birthdays than Harper.

“I still feel like I have that kid inside me that wants to play the game of baseball every single day,” Harper said. “I got love and that passion for the game and, hopefully, I can keep it going. I hope I’ll be able to play for the Nationals for a long time and be able to play in the big leagues for a long time because that’s the dream.”

While Harper is polished following years of interviews, Trout projects a golly-gee demeanor, with close-cropped hair and a beaming smile. After he twice crashed into the center-field fence at Denver’s Coors Field last month, teammates Jered Weaver and Dan Haren suggested he turn down the enthusiasm a few notches.

“‘It’s a long year. We’re going to need you,”’ Trout remembered them telling him.

He’s hitting .341 with 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 26 steals in 29 chances.

“I was just telling Jete, I’ve never seen a player hit a triple to left field, down the line,” Yankees ace CC Sabathia said. “Raul (Ibanez) plays it off the wall, and he’s standing on third. That’s just fun to see. What he’s doing is amazing.”

While Trout was an All-Star shoo-in, La Russa appeared reluctant to select Harper and added him on Saturday as a replacement when Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton got hurt.

Even the 67-year-old La Russa, who managed his first World Series champions before Trout and Harper were born, appreciates the focus on the new stars.

“It would be nice to put the National League phenom against the American League phenom,” he said.

When discussing Trout, Harper sounds like a fan.

“He’s fun to watch. I get pumped to watch him,” Harper said.

They hope this is just the first of many All-Star appearances. For every Willie Mays, who played his 24th and final All-Star game in Kansas City, there is a Gooden, who was selected in four of his first five seasons and then flamed out because of injuries and drug use.

Harper and Trout know what they can become. They are the next generation, playing alongside the present.

“I think certain guys who have been introduced to the game of baseball early on in life,” said 40-year-old Chipper Jones, who is retiring at the end of the season. “Travel ball has accelerated so much for the development of young players these days. Back when I played, we played 30 games a year, and I’d move on to football and basketball, and run a little track.”

Yes, much has changed. But much is the same.

Harper wants to become just like Jones, a perennial All-Star respected by his peers.

“Any time I can do that and be that guy that’s the face of baseball, I think that would be great, to be able to do that, to be able to play the game for a long time and respect everybody around me and respect the league,” he said. “That would be a lot of fun.”