By Greg Dillard
For the first time since 2009, the D-backs have not one, but two All-Star representatives at the Midsummer Classic.
Right fielder Justin Upton and catcher Miguel Montero were both selected as reserves on Bruce Bochy’s National League squad.
This is Upton’s second All-Star appearance after representing the D-backs in the 2009 game in St. Louis, while Montero is getting his first taste of All-Star festivities.
The D-backs backstop was chosen to replace injured Phillies infielder Placido Polanco. Following Arizona’s game against St. Louis on Sunday, Montero was informed of the news by skipper Kirk Gibson.
“I think he was kind of stunned and a little bit lost for words,” Gibson said. “I thought he was going to cry. It’s a great honor for him, and he deserves it. The fact that it came at the last minute takes nothing away from it.”
Although he and his family had prior plans for this year’s All-Star break, the first-time All-Star didn’t mind having to reschedule.
“I had plans already,” Montero said. “We were going to Laguna for a couple days. We were going go to Disneyland for one other day, but it was easy to cancel. I got my money back.”
Montero was shocked upon hearing that he’d be at the Midsummer Classic. He immediately phoned his wife and flew his family in from Venezuela. The All-Star “rookie” even struggled to sleep on the flight back to Arizona.
In his sixth big league season, Montero has been an offensive force in the heart of the D-backs’ lineup. The first half of the 2011 campaign saw him bat .272 with 10 long balls and 45 RBI.
The Venezuelan slugger leads all Major League catchers with 22 doubles. He also leads all National League catchers in runs with 40. His 77 hits tie him for second among all NL backstops. Montero and his 45 RBI trail only Atlanta’s Brian McCann in RBI from an NL catcher.
Montero’s strong offensive numbers certainly made a case for him to be included on the NL roster.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Like all players, we work hard for it. That was like a nice gift. For me, it was a challenge. I always wanted to be here. I hope it’s not the first and the only time because I’m going to keep working hard to be here more often. It’s a great feeling. It’s hard to describe.”
The D-backs’ other All-Star representative is none other than Justin Upton. After earning his first All-Star nod in 2009, the starting right fielder has enjoyed another breakout season in 2011.
With power to all parts of the field and an ability to hit for average, Upton’s bat is capable of leading the D-backs’ offense for weeks at a time.
In his fifth big league season, the right-handed hitter owns a .293 average with 15 homers and 46 RBI. Not only has he flashed power, but Upton is always a stolen base threat when on the base paths. He’s swiped 14 bags this year.
Upton was nearly unstoppable in the month of June when he hit .382 with nine doubles and 15 RBI. He also posted an on-base percentage of .467.
The former No. 1 overall pick’s successful first half made him an ideal All-Star candidate. For Upton, it’s a thrill to participate in a Midsummer Classic at home.
“Absolutely, playing here in Phoenix if you don’t want to be here then you shouldn’t be a D-back,” Upton said. “All our guys, we were battling. We played well, everybody wanted to be here. Miggy and me were lucky enough to be a part of it. We’re excited to be here, and our fans are excited.”
On All-Star workout day, both teams participated in batting practice in front of thousands of fans at Chase Field. When Upton stepped into the cage for his turn, the crowd erupted.
“That was great,” Upton said. “Our fans have definitely stepped up to the plate and came out and supported not just me, but everybody. But I have been getting a little extra love from the fans, which is fun.”
Both D-backs All-Stars have received plenty of support from the Chase Field crowd. Upton is more than willing to share the hometown love, as he’s just happy to share the experience with a teammate.
“I’m excited for him,” Upton said. “In your hometown, you want to have more than one guy, and Miggy being here makes it a lot easier with our two guys showing here. Hopefully we get in the game, we can impact it, and our fans will have a memory they can hang on to.”