Yonder Alonso sat at his locker, ice packs wrapped onto his shoulder and knee, thumbing through his cell phone.
The always soft-spoken first baseman was even more so following a 12-inning loss and sweep Sunday. After seven years as a major leaguer, battling to maintain one of just 750 big-league roster spots, Sunday brought Alonso the ultimate validation — a selection to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The news came to him about 30 minutes before the first pitch, he said. But his voice was still cracking when he spoke after the game:
“I’m just so thankful, man. It’s one of those things that’s full-circle. … You’re looking at a guy that almost got non-tendered last year to a guy in the middle of the lineup, playing the game with full confidence.”
Part of that full circle is the location of the 2017 All-Star Game. The 30-year-old, Cuban-born Alonso will return to his adopted home of Miami, where the Marlins will host the festivities.
“Going back to my home, and where I grew up, it means a lot to me.”
Alonso came into the season having never reached the 10-home run mark. A career .270 hitter, he had developed the reputation for poor offensive production at a position that requires the opposite. But, through hours upon hours of work to improve his prowess in the box, the 2008 first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds has become a major power threat.
Among qualified first baseman, Alonso ranks among the top five American League first baseman in on-base percentage (.376, No. 2), home runs (17, No. 3), slugging percentage (.569, No. 3), extra-base hits (30, T-4) and RBIs (38, No. 5).
Manager Bob Melvin, who said “hoopla” surrounded his first baseman when the club visited Miami in June, spoke for the entire Oakland clubhouse:
“We’re all excited for him. … For him, this is a special day — getting to go home.”
And Melvin was the one who got to tell the slugger he had been selected. Said Alonso:
“BoMel called me into the office, and he just put his arms up and said, ‘congratulations kid, you’re going to Miami, you’re going home.’ My eyes got watery. Just so fortunate, and so blessed, to have the opportunity to represent the Oakland A’s and all the guys here.”
He was not chosen as a starter, via fan vote. Instead, he was chosen by a player-vote, which he said made it even more special:
“It just means so much to know that they took it seriously, and they know what’s happening in the game.”
One player vote undoubtedly cast for Alonso was that of Oakland starter Sean Manaea, who is in contention to seize an alternate spot in the game when ineligible pitchers are named following the first half’s final games on Sunday. Despite having his latest gem go unrewarded, he broke into a massive grin when asked about his teammate:
“It’s awesome, he’s definitely deserving of it. It’s really exciting that he gets to go back to Miami … it’s really, really cool, and I’m glad he’s out first baseman. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
As far as Alonso’s emotions, he was pleased to share with his family, particularly his father, who gave up a professional career in Cuba to be a father:
“First person I called was my wife — she started crying. Next person I called was my dad and my mom. I told my dad that was going to try to make him a player just as much as I am, and enjoy the festivities as much as I am.”