Braves sending five players to Anaheim
Heyward second-youngest electee; surprise nod for Infante
ATLANTA -- When Omar Infante received a call from Braves general manager Frank Wren at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday, his initial reaction was that he had likely been traded. A few moments later, the veteran utility player found himself bubbling with excitement and dealing with the shock surrounding the fact that he has been selected to participate in next week's All-Star Game.
"I was jumping around with my wife and kid," Infante said, with Braves second baseman Martin Prado interpreting. "I was so happy. I was shocked and couldn't believe it."
When Wren called Prado and Jason Heyward to inform them that they had also gained their first All-Star selections, there was much reason for them to be surprised. Like Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, a pair of All-Star veterans, they were more excited to learn that Infante will be joining them for this year's All-Star Game, which will be played July 13 at Angel Stadium.
"I'm so happy for him," Hudson said. "I was just thrilled when I learned that he made it. That's just great."
With five All-Star selections, the Braves will have their greatest representation since they sent seven players to the 2003 All-Star Game. Atlanta could gain a sixth representative this year if Billy Wagner wins the Final Vote balloting that will determine which players fill the final roster spot on both the NL and American League rosters.
There was little doubt that the Braves would gain at least four selections this year, and little reason to believe that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would fill a roster spot with Infante, who has hit .311 in the 56 games he had played while serving as Atlanta's primary utility man this year.
While serving as the NL's manager the past two years, Manuel felt there was a need for a utility player, and after evaluating his options, he felt that Infante was the best choice. The versatile Venezuelan may have strengthened his candidacy while hitting .353 against the Phillies this year.
"I thought that was the greatest pick ever," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It was a surprise pick for sure. But it makes all the sense in the world. When I was managing that All-Star team in Japan [after the 2000 season], I spent half my time calling other managers asking, 'If I get in a pinch, can I move your player who might be a shortstop to second [base] and stuff like that. Getting a guy like Omar, who can play anywhere, helps."
With Phillies second baseman Chase Utley on the disabled list with a strained right thumb, Prado will serve as the NL's starting second baseman. The Braves' 26-year-old infielder entered Sunday leading the Majors with 115 hits. His .336 batting average was 15 points higher than any other qualified NL player's mark.
After being awoken by Wren's early-morning call, Prado informed his mother that she would be joining him in Anaheim next week. Irma Prado recently received a six-month visa that allowed her to exit Venezuela and spend the remainder of this season with her son in Atlanta.
"[Wren] told me that I was selected by the players," Prado said. "I got great support from the fans. But he told me the players gave me a majority. They voted for me. That made me feel very good."
Having received the third-most votes among all NL outfielders, Heyward could also be part of the league's starting lineup. But before being cleared to play, the 20-year-old outfielder must see how his injured left thumb reacts after being removed from a cast on Sunday.
Heyward is the second-youngest Major Leaguer to ever be elected to start an All-Star Game. He is two months and 12 days younger than Ken Griffey Jr., who became the youngest elected player in 1990.
"It's cool," Heyward said. "First time for everything. First times are always the ones your going to remember the most. But to be able to do it with four other players on my team, I think that's something special."
When he learned that he'd gained his third career All-Star selection, and first since 2004, Hudson thought about how much fun he will have taking his five-year-old son, Kade, on the field during the festivities surrounding the State Farm Home Run Derby, which will take place on July 12.
"I don't really think he knows what it's all about, but I'm excited to get out there with him, get him a little All-Star jersey and make some fun memories," Hudson said.
Living up to the expectations the Braves had when they gave him a three-year contract extension in November, Hudson has once again legitimized himself as an ace. The 34-year-old right-hander entered Sunday evening's start against the Marlins having posted a 2.09 ERA in his previous 12 starts.
McCann has now earned an All-Star selection during each of the first five seasons of his career. No other player in Braves franchise history had ever gained three All-Star selections in their first three full seasons. Each of the 26-year-old catcher's selections have come courtesy of the votes cast by fellow Major League players.
"He deserves it," Cox said. "He puts up stats and he plays the game in such a professional manner. The players love him."
McCann's vision problems have forced him to endure rough starts both of the past two seasons. But the 26-year-old catcher has recently shown some signs of why he has already won three NL Silver Slugger Awards. He had hit .271 and compiled seven of his nine homers in the previous 48 games that he had played entering Sunday.
"To be voted in by the guys you play against every day, and have their respect, that means a lot to me," McCann said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.