KANSAS CITY -- When the Blue Jays concluded the first half of the 2009 season in Baltimore, Jose Bautista hopped in a car and made the four-hour drive to Pittsburgh to watch the All-Star Game with friends that he had made during his days with the Pirates.
Those same friends will likely take time on Tuesday night to watch Bautista participate in his third straight All-Star Game. This marks the second consecutive year that he will start and bat cleanup for the American League.
"I feel really honored, but it is a big responsibility as well," Bautista said. "There is a lot at stake in this game. Everybody knows that. So hopefully I can do a good job."
The fact that this year's All-Star Game is being contested at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium provides Bautista a chance to reminisce about the not-so-glorious early years of his career. During his 2004 season, he played for four teams, including the Royals, who claimed him off waivers and then traded him to the Mets one month later.
"When I was here in '04, they weren't doing all that great, and that is part of the reason they traded me," Bautista said. "They were trading away some of their stars and they were kind of weak in the catcher's position. So they traded for a catcher. It's nothing personal."
While Bautista might not worry about the fact that he bounced around the Majors for five years before finally rising to prominence with the Blue Jays, the four teams he previously played for certainly did not foresee him earning three consecutive All-Star berths and becoming the game's premier power hitter.
Since the start of the 2010 season, Bautista has hit 31 more home runs than any other Major Leaguer. The 27 homers he has hit this year tie him with Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton for the league lead.
"Being here for three years in a row is a great feeling," Bautista said. "It hasn't hit me yet, but I'll get to enjoy that later on. There isn't any present need to be thinking about that right now. I just hope to be able to keep coming here to know these guys on a personal level."
Bautista was not necessarily taking on the appearance of an All-Star when he batted .223 with 12 home runs and a .447 slugging percentage through his first 51 games. But he has looked much more like himself while hitting .276 with 15 home runs and a .677 slugging percentage in the 35 games that have followed.
Though many players attempt to exit a slump by focusing on hitting the baseball to the opposite field, Bautista said his turnaround was a product of his decision to remain patient until seeing a pitch that he could pull.
"I was just going back to doing what has made me successful, being patient and waiting for my pitches in the middle or middle-in part of the plate," Bautista said. "I was chasing a lot of pitches on the outer part of the plate and pitches that were outside the zone. I was trying to go to right field, and that was not my strength."
As Bautista spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, he displayed the calm of a player who has had previous experiences in All-Star Games. But he was still feeling the same excitement that he had after he had earned his previous two selections.
"I think you're always going to be in awe when you have this type of setup and environment with great players around you," Bautista said. "There's a lot of excitement and a lot of buzz. Just being a part of the whole festivities and having the opportunity to bring my family is something I really enjoy."
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.