OAKLAND — Yonder Alonso typically isn’t one to talk about himself, preferring to redirect most media questions into responses that praise his A’s teammates.
On Sunday, he talked in a very personal tone about what it meant to be chosen to his first All-Star Game. His words revealed just how much the honor means to him and how long of a journey it was to get to this point.
“You’re looking at a guy that almost got non-tendered last year to a guy now in the middle of the lineup, playing the game and full of confidence,” Alonso said.
Manager Bob Melvin called him into his office about 30 minutes before Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Atlanta and delivered the news that Alonso had been voted into the All-Star Game as a reserve via the players’ voting. He briefly led the fan voting to be the American League starter at first base but wound up finishing fourth, with Toronto’s Justin Smoak being selected to start.
As the A’s most obvious All-Star candidate, he also could have been chosen as one of AL manager Terry Francona’s picks. But being voted in by his peers meant so much to Alonso.
“I’m just grateful for my peers seeing me every day. It means so much to know that they obviously take it seriously,” he said. “They obviously know what’s happening in the game. I’m just so thankful and full of emotions right now.”
The 30-year-old native of Cuba arrived to the A’s in a trade from San Diego before the 2016 season, bringing with him the reputation of a player who had trouble staying healthy and hadn’t delivered the power numbers typically expected of a first baseman.
Toward the end of last season, he set about changing things, re-working his stance in a way that’s provided power that many probably didn’t think he was capable of in the majors. Never in his previous seven seasons had Alonso even cracked double figures in home runs. Already this season, just one game past the halfway point, Alonso has blown away his career high with 17 homers. He’s hitting .281 with 38 RBI and a team-best .933 on base-plus-slugging percentage.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said. “He came into spring training after working really hard this offseason to make some adjustments to add that power stroke to his game. It’s awesome to see a guy like that, who's been in the league for a little while, to go play in his first All-Star Game.
And to have it be at home where he’s from, you can’t write it any better than that.”
Yes, Miami became home for Alonso and his family after they defected from Cuba when he was 10. In a first-person story for The Players Tribune, Alonso wrote in fascinating detail about the sacrifices his parents, Luis and Damarys, made to support he and his younger sister, Yainee. Alonso described how he would come back from college baseball road trips while playing for the University of Miami and immediately go help his father clean warehouses and office buildings.
Now he’s eager to share the All-Star experience with his father in the lead-up to the July 11 game at Marlins Park in Miami.
“I told my Dad I’m gonna try to make him be a player as much as I am, and enjoy the festivities as much as I am,” Alonso said. “He’ll definitely get to enjoy the moment.”
Alonso becomes just the fifth A’s first baseman to become an All-Star since the team moved to Oakland in 1968. The A’s went 19 years before getting a first baseman into the Midsummer Classic with the first of nine appearances by Mark McGwire:
Mark McGwire (1987, 1988*, 1989*, 1990*, 1991*, 1992*, 1995, 1996, 1997)
John Jaha (1999)
Jason Giambi (2000*, 2001)
Brandon Moss (2014**)
Yonder Alonso (2017)
*denotes the player was voted to start)
**Moss actually appeared in more games as an outfielder in ‘14