KANSAS CITY -- The two Chicago Cubs on the 2012 National League All-Star team come to this moment at opposite ends of the All-Star expectation spectrum.
For shortstop Starlin Castro, this is what happens in July. This is his second full season in the Majors. This will be his second straight All-Star appearance. He is 22 years old.
On the other hand, there is Bryan LaHair, who paid his dues with a nine-year apprenticeship in the Minor Leagues. LaHair, 29, for the first time in his career, won an everyday job with a big league club, in this case, first base with the Cubs. He has subsequently moved to the outfield to make room for prized prospect Anthony Rizzo. But LaHair still has one of the best feel-good All-Star stories.
"I think I'm the most excited person to be here," LaHair said Monday at an All-Star interview session held at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. "I really am. It's just an incredible experience for me to be here with all the legends, the All-Stars, the future Hall of Famers. You feel like you're part of something special and I feel truly blessed to be here. It's an incredible moment for me and my family and I'm going to try to soak up every moment of it.
"Just the path that I took to get here; I get one opportunity to be an everyday big league player, and somehow I get to be an All-Star. I dreamt it this way, but obviously I didn't know it would work out this way. The players voted me in and it's a good feeling to know that they respect your game and they respect the hard work that you put in through the years. I just feel blessed that they voted me in and wanted me to be a part of this."
Castro was feeling just as happy, but markedly less surprised.
"I feel great," Castro said. "I feel really, really good because back-to-back years in the All-Star Game is kind of my goal. Being in the All-Star Game every year, that's why I'm working really, really hard because I want to represent my team every year in the All-Star Game.
Castro paused, smiled and said: "It's happened."
Castro and LeHair both made the NL All-Star team on the strength of the respect of their peers. Castro finished fifth among NL shortstops in the fan balloting, but he was first on the players' ballots, ahead of the Cardinals' Rafael Furcal, who was voted NL starter by the fans. Castro was the Cubs' only representative at the All-Star Game last year.
Last year, Castro was the youngest Cubs player ever named to the Midsummer Classic. He also is the first Cubs shortstop to be selected in back-to-back All-Star Games since Don Kessinger, who was named to the All-Star team from 1968-72.
LaHair finished second in the player balloting to the Reds' Joey Votto, who was selected in the fan balloting as a starter.
LaHair is the first Cubs player to be elected as a first baseman since Derrek Lee in 2007 and only the third Cubs first baseman to make the team in the last 30 years (also Mark Grace).
Cubs manager Dale Sveum had informed Castro and LaHair of their All-Star status in a team meeting. For LaHair, the surprise was obvious.
"It kind of caught him off guard a little bit," Sveum said of LaHair. "That's what we live for in this game is one of those special moments."
Both Castro and LaHair are optimistic about the Cubs' future, despite the team's difficulties in the first half of the season. Castro said he was not troubled by the trade rumors swirling about the team, and LaHair suggested the trade talk could represent something positive.
"We've got a really good team," LaHair said. "We've got tons of players that people want. That's not a bad thing for a team to have.
"I don't think there's one ounce of doubt in that clubhouse where the Cubs are headed. Everybody is on board with the manager. He's running the ship and everybody's accepting the decisions he makes."
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 6:30 p.m. CT. 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.