Twins' Berrios excited to be first-time All-Star
WASHINGTON—The day before the All-Star Game means player media availability time.
Every all-star—one league at a time—is seated at a small table in a lounge area, and the assembled media masses have 45 minutes to talk with them.
During the American League session Monday at Nationals Park, one needed a crowbar or ladder to get near the likes of Mike Trout, Aaron Judge or the soon-to-be traded Manny Machado.
For others, the demand was lighter. Tucked away in the far back corner of the room, right next to Oakland closer Blake Treinen, sat Minnesota's lone All-Star Game representative, pitcher Jose Berrios.
The affable right-hander accommodated a small but steady flow of interviewers, toggling back and forth between English and Spanish. Given his youth and talent, it's easy to see him making repeat trips with the crowd around his table growing year by year.
"It's awesome," the 24-year-old Berrios said of his first all-star experience. "See a lot of good talent here. Good players. The next couple days are gonna be fun for me."
After the team workouts, the players were on hand for the Home Run Derby Monday night, July 16, with Berrios cheering on fellow Puerto Rican Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs.
Tuesday night, July 17, could find them matched up on the national stage.
"I want to face him but at the same time I don't want to because he's my friend, he's my brother," Berrios said. "But when we go out there, we have to compete. So we don't care who we are, just go out there and compete.
"He wants to hit a homer, I want to strike him out. It's gonna be fun for us and for everybody."
Berrios and Baez are two of the five-member Puerto Rican contingent at the game, all of whom played on the Puerto Rico team that finished as runners-up in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
"We played well in 2017 for Puerto Rico, then we played a lot of good baseball in the major leagues," Berrios said. "So now we have a chance to play together again in the All-Star Game. It's going to be a good thing for us."
Berrios followed up the classic by going 14-8 with a 3.89 earned-run average while striking out 139 batters in 145 2/3 innings last season. This year, he enters the break 9-7 with a 3.68 ERA and 127 strikeouts against 29 walks in 127 1/3 innings.
Berrios credited consistency and better command of his fastball on both sides of the plate — thereby setting up his secondary pitches—for his success.
He admitted making the all-star team was a goal but had his doubts after losing a pair of decisions just before the teams were announced.
"I say 'maybe I don't have a chance,' " Berrios said. "When (manager Paul) Molitor did the meeting and mentioned my name I said, 'Thank you, God, you always surprise me all the time.' So I'm here, I'm so happy. It's a blessing and I'm ready to have fun tonight and (Tuesday)."
Berrios flew into Washington on Sunday night, July 15, with Tampa Bay's Blake Snell and Wilson Ramos but said he didn't get much sleep as he was looking ahead to the festivities.
Once they're over however, Berrios believes the Twins' 9-of-11 streak leading into the break sets them up for post-All-Star Game pursuit of the division-leading Cleveland Indians.
"It brings a lot of confidence to us, being on track again," he said. "Right now, we finished the first half strong so we're going to have to get ready for the next half."