As Marlins 20-year-old rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez looked around CitiField on Monday afternoon he locked eyes with a familiar face — Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
A year ago at this time, the two went head-to-head in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City, Mo. Fernandez was playing for the Single A Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers at the time. Machado was the starting shortstop for the Double A Bowie (Md.) Bay Sox.
One summer later, they’re back at All-Star Week and playing in the big game together.
“Just being a part of this group is something that everyone dreams about,” said Machado, who grew up in Hialeah and starred at Miami Brito Private. “I was just excited to be in the big leagues when I got called up last August. And then to make the playoffs, now to be here in my first All-Star Game — I’m very blessed.”
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Machado, the third overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, turned 21 on July 6. That makes him the third-youngest All-Star here — a few weeks older than Fernandez (he turns 21 on July 31) and a couple months older than Nationals two-time All-Star Bryce Harper (Oct. 16).
Youth definitely has been served during this All-Star break. Machado is one of a record 39 first-time All-Stars named to this year’s game. His first appearance comes one year after Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout, who turns 22 on Aug. 7, participated in their first All-Star Games.
“What surprises me about Manny? His poise,” said Orioles teammate Adam Jones, a three-time All-Star who sat near Machado on Monday during his session with reporters and playfully toyed with him, stealing his Gatorade bottle and then teasing him for wearing a blue and white button shirt similar to his.
“Look at him. He doesn’t seem a bit excited. Inside he’s running like the Road Runner. Outside he’s just calm and collected. ... What Manny is doing is ridiculous because of his age. He’s doing it for a good team. It’s not like he’s batting ninth and just hitting. He’s hitting second, playing every day of the season and he’s bringing it.”
A shortstop his entire playing career, Machado spent just two days in Double A playing third base before the Orioles called him up and plugged him into the hot corner. He hit .265 as a rookie and helped the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
He has followed that up in his first full big-league season by hitting .310 with seven home runs and 45 RBI, while playing spectacular defense — enough to merit the praise of Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who has called Machado the best defensive third baseman in the game.
At the All-Star break, Machado easily leads the major leagues with 39 doubles — the second-most ever hit before the All-Star break and just three shy of Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez’s record set in 1996. En route, Machado broke the record for multi-hit games before the age of 21 set by Ty Cobb and put his name up right behind Mickey Mantle for most hits by a player younger than 21 in a month with the 44 he had in May.
“Just swing and hit the white ball coming at you,” Machado said Monday when asked what his secret was at producing so many extra-base hits.
Does he miss shortstop? “Yeah, I miss it. I think about it every once and a while,” Machado admitted Monday.
But with teammate J.J. Hardy nearby — the American League’s starting shortstop himself — Machado is not complaining.
“I don’t think there’s any way that I could do what he’s done,” Hardy said. “Really not playing any games in the minor leagues, then to come up and, the first day in the big leagues, play third base and be as good as he has. I don’t think people realize how good of an athlete he is to be able to make that transition so easily.”
Machado, whose mother, uncle and aunt all made the trip up to New York to see him play Tuesday, grew up admiring another Miami-produced shortstop turned third baseman — Alex Rodriguez. He wears the same number as the troubled Rodriguez now — not by choice, Machado says, “it’s the number the Orioles gave me.”
But he still admires what Rodriguez has accomplished in his career. He met him three years ago — his trainer introduced them — and has an autographed ball from Rodriguez.
A-Rod was 18 days shy of his 21st birthday when he played in his first All-Star Game. Machado will play in his first All-Star Game just 10 days past his 21st birthday.
“I’ve enjoyed every single moment I’ve been out on that field so far,” Machado said. “A lot of people wish they could be here. I’m just blessed.”