Monday, July 10, 2017

Three Unique All-Star Journeys

Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."--- Yogi Berra, MLB Hall of Famer and 18-time All-Star

Each professional baseball player's journey takes them down different paths. Some players seem destined for glory with high signing bonus and top prospect attached to their name. Other players spend each year wondering if they will have a job or if they will be pushed away from the game they love.

Even for the game's best players, there are ups and downs along the way. These experiences can help fans relate more to the players. They have their own struggles and search for the right mixture to be successful on the field. While each player took their own route to Miami, three Twins players can officially call themselves All-Stars.

The Experienced Veteran: Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana has been here before but it was nearly a decade ago. As a 34-year old, Santana is in the midst of his best professional season. His journey started as an 18-year old from the Dominican Republic and Baseball American had him in their top-100 prospects twice. Santana would debut as a 22-year old and spend his first 12 seasons in the Angels organization. He's made stops in Kansas City and Atlanta before putting it all together this season.

As a 25-year old first-time All-Star, Santana probably thought he'd make multiple return trips to the All-Star Game. So far this season, he leads all of baseball in complete games and shutouts. He's one of the main reasons the Twins have been able to stay in the playoff picture. This might be his final All-Star experience so you have to believe he is cherishing every step of this part of his journey.

The New Kid On The Block: Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano was a name known in baseball circles before he signed his first professional contract. As a teenager in the Dominican Republic, Sano was the top international player in the 2009 signing class. However, there were questions about his age and MLB stepped in to investigate. The results were inclusive and Sano signed a $3.15 million bonus to join the Twins organization. This tumultuous journey was chronicled in the 2011 documentary, Ballplayer: Pelotero.

There have been some other bumps in the road for the young slugger. He missed all of the 2014 season following Tommy John surgery. His 2016 campaign saw a sophomore slump as he struggled to live up to the hype of his monster rookie season. On Monday night, he took center-stage in Miami as one of the four American League Home Run Derby participants. His journey has taken quite the turn from the small dirt floor home his family occupied in the Dominican Republic.

The Unexpected Closer: Brandon Kintzler
There had to be times when Brandon Kintzler thought his baseball career was over. He wasn't drafted until the 40th round of the 2004 MLB Draft. He never got higher than High-A with the Padres organization before they let him go. For the next three seasons, he bounced around the independent leagues including stops in Winnipeg and St. Paul.

Kintzler pitched well enough for the Brewers to notice and he took advantage of a new opportunity. He made his MLB debut in 2010 and pitched in the Arizona Fall League in each of the next two seasons. With the Brewers, he found some moderate success out of the bullpen but they didn't bring him back following the 2015 campaign. Other arms were ahead of Kintzler when he got to Minnesota. Glen Perkins getting injured and Kevin Jepsen pitching poorly allowed the door to open. He's been terrific this season as he leads baseball in games finished and his 24 saves are second in the American League.

Santana might be making his final All-Star trip. Sano is making his first of what many expect to be multiple All-Star appearances. Kintzler took the longest road to get here and he has to be happy about every step that he took along the way.

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