07/13/09 5:10 PM ET
Young showing first-timer Cruz the ropes
All-Star regular equally enjoys Rangers teammate's success
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
He was the Most Valuable Player in 2006 and drove in the winning run in '08. He was there when then-teammate Alfonso Soriano was the MVP in '04. Young has never been on the losing side in a game.He has seen many memorable moments. One of his great joys in going to the All-Star Game is having teammates come with him. Over the past five years, he has been joined by nine different teammates. Nelson Cruz makes it 10. The 29-year-old right fielder will be with Young in representing the Rangers at the 80th annual All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium at 7 p.m. CT on FOX. "I love the fact that Nellie is here," Young said. "One of the reasons last year was so fun was I went with three teammates [Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley] who went for the first time. Nellie's first time should be a lot of fun watching how he handles it." Cruz was a surprise choice. But he was next in line in the players voting after Angels outfielder Torii Hunter went on the disabled list. "This means a lot," Cruz said. "I just thank God because I didn't expect to be here. The rosters were set over a week ago, so this really shocked me when they called me." Cruz certainly has the numbers to be here. He finished the first half hitting .263 with 22 home runs and 53 RBIs. His .539 slugging percentage is also the 12th-highest mark in the league. It is still odd though that Cruz learned of his All-Star selection that day after being out of the lineup for three straight days. He wasn't hurt. When Hamilton came off the disabled list a week ago, manager Ron Washington once again found himself trying to juggle playing time between Hamilton, Cruz, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd and Andruw Jones. For three straight days, Washington decided that Cruz was the odd-man out. But Cruz was back in the lineup for the final three games in Seattle and hit two more home runs. He is the Rangers' home run leader at the break. "I was out for three days and I was like mad because I want to play every day," Cruz said. "It's tough for Ron because he has five outfielders who can play every day. ... But when I got selected that made my confidence really high." He has taken a long and winding road to get to St. Louis. Unlike most of the talent coming out of his native Dominican Republic, Cruz was not baseball-first growing up on the island. His father, Nelson Sr., played professional baseball, but Cruz was a basketball player and a member of the Dominican Republic Junior National Team. The Mets signed him 11 years ago but didn't keep him. The Rangers are actually his fourth organization. He was traded to the Athletics in 2000 and then to the Brewers in 2004. He finally emerged as a top prospect in 2005, when he won the Brewers Minor League Player of the Year Award by hitting .289 with 27 home runs and 81 RBIs. Cruz made his Major League debut in September that year but he hardly established himself as a big league player. He was back in the Minor Leagues at the start of the 2006 season and the Brewers traded him and outfielder Carlos Lee to the Rangers on July 28 for Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Francisco Cordero and Minor League pitcher Julian Cordero. "It's obvious that when we first started having dialogue with Milwaukee, it was about Carlos Lee," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "But once we saw the price we were going to have to pay, we decided we weren't going to do it unless we got a piece for the future, too. We were one game out of first place and wanted a shot in the arm, but we wanted a long-term piece, too, and Nelson gave us that. "I'm thrilled where he is at right now, participating in the All-Star Game and getting some recognition for the work he has put in. He has taken a different path to get there than some other players." Cruz spent 2 1/2 years trying to earn a spot in the Rangers' lineup, bouncing up and down from Triple-A. The Rangers hoped he would be a "late bloomer" because of his basketball background, but some openly wondered if he would ever figure out what he was doing at the plate. Any club could have had Cruz at the beginning of last season. He didn't make the club out of Spring Training and was put on outright waivers for anybody to claim. Nobody did, so Cruz went to Triple-A Oklahoma and reestablished himself by being the MVP of the Pacific Coast League. "That was tough, being on waivers," Cruz said. "It was four days into the season and other teams had made all their moves. Last year [was] the toughest of my career, but things happen for a reason and I've been blessed." This season he has earned a spot in right field but still must fight for playing time. Nothing is automatic for Cruz. But he is an American League All-Star and not the same player that he was a couple of years ago. "Seeing him grow over the years, the big thing is watching how his body language and his confidence have grown," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "You see a different swagger, a different look. He's awfully dangerous. Nellie's biggest thing is learning to lay off not-so-good pitches outside the zone. But you can see a different confidence level."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.