KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Monday was Media Day in Kansas City, with all the All-Stars, all 109 of them, available to the media for a spell at Arrowhead Stadium, just across the way from Kauffman Stadium. Two sessions: first the American Leaguers, then the .
I played hooky. As things turned out, I had to choose between spending some time with the American Leaguers and getting lunch with Bill James and Joe Posnanski, two of our finest writers. I am a writer, also. So I chose the writers. I felt better about my choice when, while waiting for our barbecue at legendary Arthur Bryant's, we ran into my father and my kid brother.
I did make it to Arrowhead in plenty of time for the National Leaguers. Before they appeared, though, I spotted this exciting piece of professional football history ...
Hey, I thought that was pretty nifty and I'm not even a real football fan. I mean, that's the real thing!
Anyway, they finally let us into the room with the (actually) 34 National League All-Stars. You want to guess how much time you get with 34 All-Stars?
Forty-five minutes. One minute and nineteen seconds per All-Star.
Fortunately, I had prepared a brief question for each of those 34 All-Stars, and I'm really fast. So I wound up getting some really great material from all 34 of them.
Not really. Wouldn't that have been great, though? If I'd done that.
I did visit with six players, and was around while another was talking. And while they said some interesting things, the overwhelming impression I took away from my 45 minutes with 34 of our National League's best players was how nice they all seemed.
Oh, and physically unimpressive. Yes, they're big and they're strong and they're phenomenally athletic; most of these guys are good at just about any sport they care to try. But while some (Lance Lynn) are giants among men, most baseball players wouldn't turn your head if you walked past them in a mall.
Well, except that many of them are strikingly handsome. But you know what I mean.
Getting back to the niceness, though ... Baseball players, and professional athletes in general, don't have the greatest reputation. They make too much money, they're self-absorbed, they've lost touch with the common fan, etc.
I won't argue that any of that isn't true. I don't spend enough time in locker rooms to suggest otherwise. What I can tell you is that most of the 34 National League All-Stars seemed genuinely happy to be there, and most of them seemed perfectly happy to answer whichever foolish questions were asked, by me or anyone else. I just wish it would have lasted longer than 45 minutes.
Andrew McCutchen is having the best season of his career, and one of the best seasons in the National League; if the balloting happened today, he would be Most Valuable Player, largely because he's batting .362 and his Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place.
Oddly, though, his walks are down significantly this season. Which perhaps shouldn't be too surprising, since McCutchen seems to have changed his approach. Before this season, he swung at around 21 percent of pitches outside the strike zone; this season he's swung at 28 percent of those pitches. Before this season, he swung at around 40 percent of all pitches; this season he's swung at roughly half of the pitches he's seen.
So did McCutchen make a conscious effort to swing at more pitches this season.
"Last year," he said, "I was taking it deeper into counts.
"I'm still making mechanical adjustments. I have a new stance this year. I opened my stance a little bit, and told myself to get as comfortable as I could."
McCutchen's aware of the walks (and the strikeouts) and he's not sure he's done getting better. "The strikeouts are starting to settle down, the walks starting to go up."
That's not really showing up in the statistics yet. In April and May, McCutchen drew 16 walks and struck out 36 times. In June and July, he's drawn 12 walks with 28 strikeouts.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Walks are great, but .362 batting averages and 35-40 home runs are better.
My next stop was Wade Miley, largely because I didn't have any competition.
Four months ago, Miley was just trying to win a spot on the Diamondbacks' 25-man roster. Now he's an All-Star, because Justin Upton's having a crummy season (don't worry; it's complicated).
What I learned about Wade Miley's repertoire: He throws a fastball, change-up, curveball, and mixes in a slider every once in a while. That's the standard circle change-up. If you're scoring at home.
It's funny ... Bryan LaHair knocked around the Mariners' system for so long, in my mind he's a grizzled professional veteran. Which, now that I look at his career record, he is. LaHair turns 30 in November, and this is his 10th pro season. He could easily pass for 24 or 25, though. And gosh, he's really thrilled to be an All-Star. I might even guess that he's the most thrilled All-Star of them all.
"I dreamt it this way," he said, "but there wasn't a 100-percent chance it would work out this way."
Actually, a year ago we wouldn't have figured there was a 1-percent chance. But that's why we watch. You guys know they're not robots, right?
Someone asked Michael Bourn why he's not on Twitter.
"I like my life the way it is."
Oh, if only we all had that option ...
I asked Michael Bourn how he went from two home runs all of last season to seven home runs in the first half of this season. He doesn't really know, or if he knows he's not telling. "Just adjustments and continuing to work," he said.
When I asked him if those adjustments have made him a different sort of hitter, he smiled.
"Only time will tell."
David Wright is a bit more garrulous. I've always liked Wright as a player, of course. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this ... Bud Selig is famous for reading all his clippings, then calling writers who rip him and reading them the riot act. I know, because it happened to me once. This was, as I recall, when Selig was threatening to murder the Minnesota Twins, which seemed to me then (and now) unconscionable.
Anyway, David Wright is the anti-Bud; he's famous for reading his clippings, then calling writers who are complimentary about him. I know, because it happened to me once. I thought he should have been the MVP in 2007, but instead he finished fourth. Which annoyed me, so of course I wrote about it. And David Wright somehow tracked down my phone number, and called to thank me. Which was ... something. Unique, for sure.
In case you've missed it, Wright's having another phenomenal season, even better than 2007. This is a real surprise, considering he played much worse from 2009-2011 than he'd played from 2005-2008. Last year, of course, he missed a big chunk of the season. So I asked him the obvious question: What's different this season?
"In years past I've changed a lot of things with my swing," he said, "things I should haven't changed. This year I haven't been doing that."
But was there a single moment when he realized he needed to stop making those mid-course changes?
Yeah, there was.
Wright was completely out of action for a stretch last season, couldn't swing a bat at all.
"I wasn't able to do anything for two months, or six weeks. When I was able to swing again, I got back to the things that felt most comfortable, and I just stayed with it. You start making those major overhauls, you can't be successful that way. Coming into this year, it was important for me to find a foundation."
I'm pulling for a big second half for Wright, and a postseason berth for the Mets. It would be nice to get another phone call. Next time I'll pick up.
Ryan Braun drew a big crowd, and I hung around just long enough to notice that he bites his fingernails. Same as me. Nobody's perfect, you know.
Jay Bruce was alone. I always feel bad for the guys who are alone. So I went to talk to him. But I didn't have anything at all in mind. So I went with the easy ones ...
Best fastball? Justin Verlander.
Best curveball? Edinson Volquez.
Best slider? Andy Pettitte.
Does Bruce always know what the pitches are?
"The pitches that I miss, I always know exactly what they are. But the ones I hit, a lot of times I don't know. Nobody's ever asked me that question before."
When I first entered the interview room, I made straight for R.A. Dickey. But he was already mobbed, so I moved on. I didn't think about Dickey again until our 45 minutes was up, and then it was too late to get in the queue. Was there in time to hear someone ask about not starting the All-Star Game, though ...
"I was disappointed. I thought I had a real good shot. I can't lie about that."
I was disappointed, too. I think he should have been the first National League knuckleball to start an All-Star Game. But as long as he pitches well when he does pitch, I think most of us R.A. Dickey fans will be happy enough.