Brantley gets at-bat, Jeter autograph at All-Star Game
Indians outfielder soaks in his first Midsummer Classic during AL's victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Brantley has never been one to collect autographs or memorabilia, but even "Dr. Smooth" can make the occasional exception.
"I want to have a couple memories to put up on the wall," Brantley said before his first career appearance in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Target Field. "[A Derek Jeter autograph] is up there on the list."
Brantley got that, and he also got to participate in the Midsummer Classic that will likely be remembered most for Jeter's All-Star swan song.
Regardless of his own performance in the American League's 5-3 victory over the National League, Brantley, who entered the game in the sixth and was robbed of a base hit by a sensational diving stop by second baseman Dee Gordon in his lone at-bat, was like every other AL All-Star. He was humbled to be sharing a room with the Yankees icon and equally amazed at the amount of attention given to No. 2's every move.
But while Major League Baseball bid a proper adieu to one of its legends, young players like Brantley are a reminder of what a bright future the game has ahead of it. Brantley, for one, is every bit as respectful, every bit as humble, every bit as hard-working as Jeter, and this All-Star Game appearance was affirmation of how far he's come as a player since the Indians first acquired him in the CC Sabathia trade six years ago.
"He's probably one of my top two or three favorite players I ever managed," said Torey Lovullo, the Boston bench coach who served on John Farrell's All-Star squad and managed Brantley in Triple-A Columbus five years ago. "I say that with ease."
"He was so eager to learn, he was a hard worker, he was smart, he was tough," Lovullo replied. "He was really working hard to eliminate every limitation so that he didn't have to ever return to the Minors. Baserunning was a separator for him. He was fearless. He and I had fun dissecting the art of stealing bases and laughing about things that nobody knew we were laughing about."
What Brantley has done this season -- with a .322 average, .382 on-base percentage, .519 slugging percentage, 15 homers and 22 doubles -- is no laughing matter, and his peers took enough notice to make him an easy choice as an AL reserve.
That gave Brantley the chance to share this special opportunity with his wife, Melissa, his 10-month-old daughter, Mariah, his 7-year-old stepson, Giovanni, and his parents, Mickey (the former outfielder and hitting coach) and Nina, as well as his sister and in-laws. Brantley wanted all of them along for the ride, and he made a promise to himself, too.
"To make sure I soak it all in," he said. "That was my only expectation. Make sure I enjoy this experience, keep my eyes open, my mouth shut and just soak it all in."
His manager, Terry Francona, was soaking it all in, too. Selected as an extra coach for the AL, Francona got to spend some quality time with his close friend, Farrell, who served as Tito's pitching coach in Boston when the Red Sox won it all in 2007. The following summer, Francona, Farrell and the rest of the Boston staff worked the All-Star Game in New York, and Francona said his favorite memory was the time spent in the manager's office with Farrell, Jim Leyland and Dustin Pedroia.
"Obviously, the All-Star game is special, but I remember stuff like that just as much," he said. "Just sitting back in the office and telling stories and listening to stories and laughing. It's pretty cool."
Francona has some new memories now, including his front-row seat for the Jeter send-off. The two have always had a relationship filled with mutual respect, and they shared a special hug in the dugout after Jeter came out of the game.
But now that the sentimentality of this star showcase is over with, Brantley, Francona and the rest of the Indians have work ahead of them. They're .500 at the break, 7 1/2 games back of the Tigers in the AL Central and 3 1/2 games back of a Wild Card spot.
Playing this game at Target Field, where the Indians clinched the AL's top Wild Card spot last September, only hammered home the point.
"Being on this field and clinching a playoff berth last year was awesome," said Brantley, "and it's something we want to do again this year."