Yes, it’s time for my hallowed All-Star tradition of stalking ex-Mariners. I left David Ortiz and Cliff Lee alone, because the statute of limitations has run out, but I did catch up yesterday with Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and Steve Delabar. Yeah, I know Lee was a Mariner more recently than Jones, but I think — check that, I know — there’s more of a visceral connection to Jones. And the fact that two players from the Erik Bedard trade, Jones and Tillman, made the All-Star team, just drives home the futility of that transaction.
Jones was more interested in talking about the WWE belt he brought with him, which he had displayed in front of him at his interview table. He said he planned to give it to the Home Run Derby winner, and in fact I saw a tweet of a picture from Yoenis Cespedes in which he proudly held the belt. Jones said the belt is authentic, given to him by pro wrestler Kevin X (aka Kevin Sharp). Of course, Jones made it clear that he was just loaning it to Cespedes.
“It represents my boisterousness,’’ he said. “This is my present to the Home Run Derby winner, hopefully with a hardcore match right after it. I’m going to keep it. This is mine. But I’ll let him hold it for a little bit.”
Jones had some interesting things to say about Chris Davis, who had the biggest breakout of the first half and is on pace for a run at 60-plus homers.
“He’s walking, he’s having great at-bats, but the thing is, every time he’s putting his bat on the ball, he’s doing damage,” Jones said. “He’s driving me in every time I’m on base. I can’t even steal bases right now because the way he’s going, they’re going to walk him. So I’m in scoring position right now the way he’s swinging it. He’s hitting doubles, and I’m going to score for him, or try at least. He’s doing something special, and it’s fun to watch him.”
Jones said that being teammates with Mariano Rivera in his final All-Star Game “is one of the greatest things I’ve done in baseball.”
Asked about hitting against Rivera, Jones said, “You know what you’re going to get — the cutter — and you still can’t hit it. Think about that. In life, if you know what’s going to happen, and you still can’t do it. And he was great at it. One pitch, a cutter, and people still can’t hit it.”
Tillman’s emergence as an All-Star at age 25, on top of Jones’ development into a major star, has added a new level of gloom to the Bedard trade (don’t forget that George Sherrill was an All-Star closer for the Orioles as well). It was slow coming for Tillman, who had an ERA over 5 in 36 starts from 2009-11 before blossoming to a 9-3 record with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts last year. This year, he’s 11-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 19 starts.
“I think it was becoming a little more efficient in my delivery, my mechanics, my routine,’’ he said. “Being able to rely on my routine and the work I put in between starts. It’s a big puzzle and there’s a lot of pieces to it.”
Tillman said it didn’t sink in he was an All-Star until he walked into the clubhouse Monday for a team meeting.
“Just seeing all those faces. I’ve seen them before, but being in same clubhouse with them is kind of jaw dropping.”
Tillman said he and Jones have put the trade far behind them.
“We get that question a lot,’’ Tillman said. “People ask if we change our game when we go against Seattle. No. It’s just another game. We’ve moved on. That’s a thing of the past now. Every game is just as important.”
Tillman said of Jones, “He’s been fun to watch since day one. He’s a guy that goes out every day, and doesn’t want to come off until the last out is made. He’s a special teammate, probably one of the best teammates I’ve had in the game. He’s the first one to pick you up and the first to tell you, hey, we need to do better here.
“To have guy like that to keep the clubhouse loose, it’s important. More important than on the field, to tell the truth.’’
Delabar, shown above, was a compelling story when he merely got a September callup with the Mariners in 2011. Making the All-Star team has elevated it to a new level.
Delabar was a substitute teacher and high school baseball coach in Kentucky, his career having flamed out because of a severe elbow injury, when the Mariners signed him to a minor-league contract in April of 2011. It seems that Delabar’s velocity had magically returned as the result of a conditioning program he had his own players on, which he tried himself.
Delabar made it all the way up to the majors in 2011, and was a part of the Mariners’ bullpen in 2012 – until a July trade to the Blue Jays. The Mariners received outfielder Eric Thames, who was designated for assignment earlier this season and now is playing in Baltimore’s organization.
Delabar, meanwhile, has put up a 1.71 earned-run average out of Toronto’s bullpen, with 58 strikeouts, third-most among American League relievers, in 42 innings. He won the Final Vote to grab a berth in the All-Star Game, which will be played one day before Delabar’s 30th birthday.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ he said. “And I still wasn’t in until the fans voted me in. It’s a huge honor to be a part of it, and to be able to represent this team, and the entire country. I was out (of baseball), and now I’m back in the game and on one of the highest stages. It’s just a huge honor to be part of it.”
Delabar said he viewed the trade as a new opportunity for him.
“I’m always excited around the trade deadline, because you see different faces go to new places,’’ he said. “It’s exciting. Growing up, I was the same way: I loved it. Maybe I’d go to a video game and trade one guy to a different team. So it’s an exciting time, and for me it was a new opportunity to go to a different team and just compete.”
Delabar added that he owes a debt of gratitude to the Mariners, and specifically Jack Zduriencik, for resurrecting his career.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Obviously, he had a hand in my career and bringing me up. He was a huge part. It was his say that got me to the big leagues. That opened the door, and I’m here today because of his promotion.”
One of the first congratulatory texts Delabar received was from ex-teammate Tom Wilhelmsen, who has his own comeback tale.
“When I saw (Hisashi) Iwakuma and Felix (Hernandez), they said all the guys back there said to tell me good luck, and they’re happy for me,’’ Delabar said.