ST. LOUIS — An MLB All-Star for the seventh time in his career, Nolan Arenado said this trip to the Midsummer Classic will be extra special for him because he’ll be playing in his native Southern California and close to the stadium where many of his baseball dreams started.
As for Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, he joked that the glitz and glamor of Dodger Stadium is roughly a million miles from where he grew up in Tahlequah, Okla., and where he played baseball collegiately at tiny Northeastern State University. However, Helsley will indeed be right there at Dodger Stadium on July 19, joining superstar teammates Paul Goldschmidt, Arenado and Albert Pujols, and playing alongside many of the greatest baseball players in the world.
Moments like Sunday, when Helsley found out from Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol that he was named a first-time MLB All-Star, led him to reflecting on the journey that he’s taken to get to this point.
“I might be the first one [to make an MLB All-Star Game],” Helsley joked, referring to his hometown of Tahlequah, which boasts a population of 16,684, according to the 2020 census. “I was just talking to one of our trainers as I was getting some treatment and he said, ‘Don’t forget to look back and appreciate where you’re at now.’ That’s so hard to do in our game because every day it’s bam, bam, bam [with games], and you try to just focus on one thing at a time. To be able to sit back now and really cherish the ride, it’s awesome.”
The All-Star Game appointments of Helsley, Arenado, Goldschmidt and Pujols give the Cardinals four players in the game, tying them with the Dodgers, Mets and Blue Jays for the third-most participants among all MLB teams. The Yankees had six All-Stars named to the AL roster, while the Braves and Astros have five All-Stars.
Pujols, a legacy pick along with Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, showed his ability to still be effective at 42 years old on Sunday, when he hit home run No. 684 of his career. The blast was the 1,377th extra-base hit of Pujols’ 22-year career, tying him with Hall of Famer Stan Musial for third in MLB history.
Helsley, who is finally fully healthy after undergoing left knee surgery last fall, notched his career-best seventh save of the season Sunday when he pitched a scoreless ninth of the Cardinals’ 4-3 defeat of the Phillies. For the season, Helsley is 5-1 with a dazzling 0.73 ERA in 29 games. Over 37 innings, he has allowed just 13 hits — and only one home run — while striking out 54 batters and walking only 12. Opponents are hitting a meager .107 against Helsley.
“He comes in and people don’t score,” Marmol said of his first-year closer who threw a 103.1 mph pitch earlier this season against the D-backs. “For him to be rewarded for that, it’s really cool.”
Arenado narrowly lost out in the fan voting for the starting nod at third base, falling after he got 49 percent of the vote compared to Manny Machado’s 51 percent. This will be the first time playing in the Midsummer Classic near his Newport Beach, Calif., home.
“To be able to go home to California will be amazing, and I’m excited to see my family because it will be an easy trip for them,” Arenado said. “I’m excited what they are going to do for Albert, and Goldy really deserves this. And Helsley, I couldn’t be happier for him. I’m probably happier for Helsley than myself.”
For the season, Arenado has a slash line of .292/.359/.522 while also ranking third in the NL in WAR (4.5), tied for eighth in RBIs (55) and tied for ninth in home runs (17). Arenado has been an NL All-Star in his first two seasons with the Cardinals and he also was selected every season from 2015-19 while playing for the Rockies.
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