Nats ready for All-Star spotlight

Nats ready for All-Star spotlight
July 9, 2012, 3:01 pm
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A handful of Nationals have drawn a cursory amount of attention over the years at the All-Star Game. Alfonso Soriano was a fairly big name at the 2006 All-Star Game. Dmitri Young made for a nice story in 2007. And Ryan Zimmerman fielded plenty of questions in 2009 (though most of those were about that morning's firing of manager Manny Acta).

Really, though, the Nationals' representative -- and it's almost always been one representative -- traditionally has sat on the sidelines and watched as the spotlight shined on plenty of other players from other, more-popular franchises.

That all changes today, because when the doors at Arrowhead Stadium swing open to media members looking to interview members of the National League All-Star team, a crowd will immediately assemble in whichever corner of the conference room officials decide to designate for the Nationals' delegation.

In a roomful of big names and big personalities, there may be no tandem of teammates more sought out than Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, each a first-time All-Star. Throw in the loquacious and effervescent Gio Gonzalez, making his second appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the Nationals have suddenly gone from afterthought to center of attention on baseball's biggest stage.

Thus will kick off the Nationals' 48-hour national coming-out party, a chance for the rest of the sporting world to see what fans and media in D.C. have seen for three months: a first-place club that not only boasts talent but also boasts legitimate star power.

This marks the first time since their inaugural 2005 season in which the Nationals have sent more than one player to the All-Star Game. And they'll actually be able to claim four roster members as All-Stars, with shortstop Ian Desmond selected to the team but unable to attend due to a lingering oblique injury that requires significant daily treatment.

Who figures to draw a bigger crowd, Strasburg or Harper? The safe bet is on the 19-year-old, the youngest position player ever to be named an All-Star, who also happens to be comfortable in front of cameras and microphones.

Harper didn't expect to be here. He'd already made plans to fly home to Las Vegas following yesterday's first-half finale, only to find out he would be replacing injured Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on the All-Star roster.

Strasburg will draw a sizable crowd himself, though most reporters will be disappointed by the 23-year-old right-hander's lack of charisma and ability to offer up sound bites on cue.

If anything, the most entertaining player wearing Nats gear will probably be Gonzalez, who loves nothing more than to talk up his teammates and has perfected the art of turning a question about his own accomplishments into reason to brag about someone else on the club.

No matter who says what, or who draws however many reporters to his table, the Nationals will be among baseball's most-discussed franchises these next two days. People will talk about Strasburg's innings limit and Harper's contributions at such a young age. They'll talk about the important roles Gonzalez and Desmond have played in leading this team to the best record in the NL. And they'll talk about this club's chances not only of making the postseason but of making a deep run through the postseason.

Better get used to it now, folks, because this is going to become the norm. The Nationals no longer operate out of the spotlight. They are smack dab in the middle of it all, a franchise that has finally arrived and can't wait to show off its prized performers over the next two days.

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