PHOENIX — It’s difficult for Tyler Clippard to pinpoint when it will set in that he is a 2011 National League All-Star.
It could have happened early last week when he got a text from former Nationals president Stan Kasten congratulating him.
It may have happened when general manager Mike Rizzo presented the All-Star jersey to him on the field Sunday in Washington, or when he stepped onto fellow NL teammate Troy Tulowitzki’s private plane a few hours later to make the trip to Phoenix.
Maybe it finally hit him when Clippard, his hat turned backward and his traditional rec specs on, sat cross-legged like a kid on the field in Arizona on Monday night as Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano put on a home run show.
“There’s a big part of me that is like, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Clippard said Monday, looking around a ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore resort filled with the game’s biggest names. “There’s also a part of me that knows that I’ve done the work and put in enough effort to deserve it. I belong here, I know that, but it’s just, when you’re growing up, I never really saw myself as this guy. Now that I’m here, it’s kind of surreal — but I’m rolling with it.”
Even Sunday night, enjoying a relaxing dinner with his father, Bob, and awaiting the arrival of his mother, Debbie, girlfriend, Brittany, and brother, Colin, as the two reflected on the path that led them here, he still couldn’t fully believe it. It was the first time Clippard had seen any of his family since Rizzo announced to the Nationals clubhouse 10 days ago that the lanky reliever would be the team’s All-Star representative. It was an emotional reunion.
“It’s tough to put into words,” Clippard said. “We’ve all been through a lot. They’re a big part of why I’m here, so it’s special for everyone.”
While his family enjoyed breakfast Monday and ambled over to Fan Fest, Clippard dealt with the responsibilities that comes with being one of the 84 players named as an All-Star. In the corner of a ballroom at the Biltmore, Clippard talked with a group of reporters for an hour. Next to him, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp’s audience ballooned and dispersed at various times. Across the room 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto’s did the same.
Clippard didn’t command the star presence of Boston’s David Ortiz, who participated in a Home Run Derby news conference one room over with his sunglasses on the entire time, or have the entertainment factor of Brian Wilson, San Francisco’s quirky closer. In a light blue, short-sleeve button-up shirt, Clippard answered the questions posed thoughtfully and eloquently. He talked about his transition from a starter to a reliever, and his trade from the Yankees to Washington, every now and then throwing an a “It was cool, man,” and smiling and laughing with frequency.
Then he hopped on a bus with the rest of his NL teammates, attempting to congratulate each one personally, and came to Chase Field for the first time since the Nationals split a heated affair with the Diamondbacks a little more than a month ago. His jersey, the one he looked at with some awe Sunday when he saw his name alongside the National League logo, hung in the home clubhouse.
He spent the derby “exactly how I envisioned it,” with his camera rolling, posing for pictures with fellow NL All-Stars Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh’s closer, and Votto, Cincinnati’s first baseman, and made sure to wear the rec specs, he said, so he could see exactly how far the home runs were flying.
At a locker next to Wilson and across from two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Clippard suited up Tuesday unaware of if or when National League manager Bruce Bochy would call on him a few hours later. His regular game-day routine was altered, though he said he didn’t mind. And like he has on so many other days, three hours before game time, Clippard headed out to the field to stretch and shag fly balls during batting practice. This time it just happened to be with the rest of the best pitchers in the NL.
At that point, it still hadn’t set in.
“I don’t think it really will until after the season or even a few years down the road,” he admitted. “It’s just a cool thing to be around all these guys and to be a part of it.”