07/13/09 2:35 PM ET
All-Star experience differs for Astros pair
Tejada enjoying sixth trip; Pence savoring first selection
By Anthony Castrovince and Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
It was, as you might imagine, a jet belonging to Tejada, the six-time All-Star who has established himself as one of the game's premier players. It did not, of course, belong to Pence, the wide-eyed Texan who made this July journey for the first time.Tejada, 35, sat in the media interview room on Monday looking dapper in a vest and tie, wearing a diamond watch that sparkled with all the shine of a disco ball and talking about an honor that never gets old. Pence, 26, stood across the room with a digital camera in hand, interviewing the interviewers and soaking in every moment of his All-Star experience with all the energy and enthusiasm of a young boy. On the surface, it seemed these two Astros All-Stars could not be more dissimilar. That is, until you see them play. "We both work hard," Tejada said. "[Pence] is going to be here every year, because he works hard, just like me. He likes to be on the field every day, and that's what's going to take him to another level. Tejada has already reached that level. The Dominican native entered the break batting a team-best .330 with seven homers and 48 RBIs. It is his career-best batting average for a first half. He is leading the National League in multi-hit games (37), three-hit games (13), doubles (29) and hits (114). The shortstop will be making his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance for the NL in his second year with the Astros. He appeared in the Midsummer Classic in 2002 with Oakland and 2004-06 with Baltimore, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the '05 All-Star Game in Detroit after hitting a home run and driving in two runs. He's a career .400 hitter (4-for-10) in the All-Star Game. But it's Tejada's lighter moments that have rubbed off on Pence. It's the side of Tejada not captured in the stat books. Be it singing the chorus of Toby Keith's "I'm Not As Good As I Once Was" after making an out or pretending to shine a spotlight on a pitcher who strikes him out, Tejada has shown his younger teammates the importance of keeping things loose, even when the going gets tough. "Miggy's the show," Pence said with a smile. "He's the real deal. I want to follow in his footsteps. I love the way he plays the game. He plays with passion, and he treats everybody with the utmost respect." Pence was touched and thankful when Tejada invited him aboard the St. Louis-bound jet with his family. "I feel very spoiled," Pence said with a laugh. Pence, who led the NL in hitting at the All-Star break as a rookie in 2007, is hitting .298 with 11 homers, 37 RBIs and nine stolen bases entering the break. His high-energy style of play in right field has been a hit with fans, but he's gone mostly unnoticed nationally. That should change come Tuesday night, and Pence was looking forward to stepping into the NL clubhouse and being surrounded by the game's brightest stars. He talked about the work he put in to get to this point -- "selling out," as he called it, during high school, when he put all his energy and attention into baseball by sharpening his skills, his mind and his body. "When I first started lifting was probably my junior year," Pence said. "I didn't know anything about lifting weights. My dad traded a watch or something that he got for me to get like five weight-training lessons from some guy at my local gym. I started following everything he taught me, then I started buying books, and I really just picked people's brains." Pence said he was lucky to have a teammate whose father is Don Werner, a former Major Leaguer who is now the catching coordinator for the Orioles. Pence would work with Werner after school, day after day, learning the fundamentals of the game. "I didn't have a car," Pence said, "so I stuck at the field." Pence went on to become the Astros' top Draft pick in 2004 (second round) out of the University of Texas at Arlington and made a rapid rise through the farm system before getting called up early in the 2007 season. In the time since, he's escalated to All-Star status. And this week, he has Tejada alongside him for advice on how to fully savor the moment. "My advice to him is to just look around and enjoy," Tejada said. "This is your chance to enjoy and cheer with other players you usually play against." This experience remains a thrill for Tejada. He might not have been walking around with a camera, but he was nonetheless appreciative to be back. And being here with Pence had him reflecting on his own first time at the All-Star Game in 2002. "I was scared," Tejada said. "Not that I was going to make an error, but I was scared walking in the clubhouse with all those guys. My first year, there were five shortstops there [for the AL]. [Nomar] Garciaparra, [Derek] Jeter, A-Rod and [Omar] Vizquel were there. They had all already been in four or five All-Star Games at that time, and then there was me. I was scared." Now, he doesn't arrive afraid. He arrives in a private jet. And who knows? Maybe he set a precedent for Pence.
Anthony Castrovince and Brian McTaggart are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.