July 2, 2006
PITTSBURGH - Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez won't have to worry about cleaning out their lockers at PNC Park to make room for the visiting National League All-Stars.
The Bucs left fielder and third baseman are going to need that space for their own All-Star uniforms and equipment at PNC Park on July 11 now that they've been tabbed to represent the Senior Circuit at the 77th Midsummer Classic.
Bay will make his second appearance on the NL All-Star roster and his first as a starter. After not being ranked in the top 15 among NL outfielders when balloting results were first released in May, Bay's stock soared thanks to the Pirates' aggressive "Get Out the Vote" campaign.
Bay will be the first Pirates player to start in an All-Star Game since Jason Kendall served as an injury substitution in 2000, and he's the first Pirate to be elected by the fans as a starter since Andy Van Slyke in 1993. The last Bucs player to start an All-Star Game in Pittsburgh was Bob Elliot in 1944 at Forbes Field.
"It's been surreal," said Bay. "Until it really happens and they give you an envelope that says you're on the team, [you're not sure]. It is an unbelievable thrill for me. I'm probably going to be a fan again, just like I was last year. To do it here in Pittsburgh with Freddy is going to be awesome."
Bay is enjoying his third consecutive outstanding season with the Pirates. After being selected as the franchise's first Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2004, Bay became the only player in team history to hit .300 with at least 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 100 runs scored, 100 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in a season last year.
Despite his recent slump at the plate, Bay still ranks among the league leaders in home runs (20), RBIs (57), walks (55) and total bases (162).
"This is three years in the big leagues, and it's another All-Star Game. It's unbelievable," said Bay. "To establish yourself and go to an All-Star Game, and now, to start in an All-Star Game. ... I talked to my mom [about it] the other day, and she started crying. It's pretty cool."
Bay was selected to represent the Pirates at the 2005 All-Star Game in Detroit, but he did not make an appearance in the game. As a fan-elected starter, Bay is assured of playing at least three innings on July 11.
"Maybe I'll bat high enough in the order where I'll get [an at-bat] early," Bay said, smiling.
While Bay was all but a sure bet to be ticketed to another Midsummer Classic, Sanchez has had to overcome much longer odds to earn his first spot on an All-Star team.
Forced to the bench after the Pirates acquired free agent Joe Randa, Sanchez began the season as a utility player. He became a full-time starter only after Randa went down with an injury in late April.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Sanchez, who was one of seven players added to the roster by NL manager Phil Garner. "Coming from Spring Training and not knowing how many at-bats I'd even get this year and knowing my role as a utility player, it's just unbelievable. I can't even describe it."
Sanchez has made the most of his opportunity, becoming the most consistent hitter in the Pittsburgh lineup. He went 3-for-4 with four RBIs on Sunday to move back to the top of the NL batting race with a .363 average. He's also been among the league leaders in batting average with runners in scoring position (.390), doubles (26) and hits (98).
A perennial .300 hitter in the Minor Leagues, Sanchez always believed that he could be an impact player in the big leagues, too, if given the chance to play regularly.
"Anybody that knows me knows that I am not a cocky person. But in this game, you have to have confidence," said Sanchez. "It's kind of hard to break that utility label sometimes. You get that label, and that's all you are. I always felt that, given the opportunity, I could do some things."
Sanchez has certainly made a believer out of his manager.
"Shame on me for saying Freddy Sanchez is a utility player for what this guy has done," said Jim Tracy. "Freddy Sanchez is a winner."
Sanchez led all Major League players with 856,685 write-in votes. Although the Pirates' balloting push was not enough to earn Sanchez a spot in the starting lineup, he believes that the increased recognition helped his cause.
"I have to thank the fans of Pittsburgh," said Sanchez. "To have the most write-in votes just goes to show you what kind of sports town and baseball town this really is. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to get in."
Perhaps no one in the Pirates clubhouse was happier for Sanchez than his All-Star teammate Bay.
"I'm more thrilled for Freddy," said Bay. "I called my wife and told her Freddy made it. And then I said, 'Oh yeah, I did, too.'"
Sanchez and Bay will be the first pair of Pirates teammates selected to an All-Star Game since Kendall and Brian Giles in 2000.