TORONTO -- The All-Star Game is home to one-of-one athletes, ballplayers whose talents become trademarks only they are capable of.
There’s Shohei Ohtani, the reigning MVP who will strike you out then take you deep as a two-way star. There’s Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, two future Hall of Famers with almost 1,200 combined home runs. Crouched behind home plate for the American League, though, will be one of baseball’s newest marvels, Alejandro Kirk.
Already a cult hero in Canada, drawing ovations for simply stepping on the field, the breakout star is Willians Astudillo with Buster Posey’s numbers, and he's about to introduce himself to the rest of baseball on one of its grandest stages.
“He’s so many things. He’s quiet. He’s funny. He has a lovable look to him,” said Blue Jays’ interim manager John Schneider. “That’s the first thing that everybody sees. He has a lovable walk-up song, then he goes and hits a couple of lasers. Everybody wins.”
“Lovable look” is the closest we’ve come to capturing the majesty of Kirk, who steps into the box barely taller than the catcher crouched behind home plate and seems to take 100 strides between bases, his legs and arms pumping away.
He isn’t just a lovable fan favorite, though. He’s also one of the most consistent offensive forces in baseball, a contact machine who puts balls in play the moment he rolls out of bed. At the catching position, in particular, his first-half numbers have been simply incredible.
“I’ve been teammates with some pretty amazing players, some MVPs, some Rookies of the Year,” said starter Ross Stripling. “Kirk just gets it done, night after night. He puts the bat on the ball consistently, walks more than he strikes out … He’s one of a kind. He just keeps building his resume and his legacy here.”
Kirk isn’t just a unique athlete, though. He’s also one of the most unique development stories in all of baseball, arriving at this moment in his career well ahead of schedule. Frankly, it’s a moment that was never expected for a catcher who signed for just $30,000. At this time two years ago, the highest level he’d played at was High-A.
Promoted as a 21-year-old in late 2020 to help the offence, Kirk has blossomed into the complete package. Schneider has seen plenty of young catchers throughout the Minor Leagues and the Majors, but few like Kirk.
“Not very many at all. This is pretty unique,” Schneider said. “When you put his skill set offensively in a vacuum, you think it will work. He hits the ball hard, he controls the zone. But to do what he’s doing defensively has been phenomenal, not only from the tactical standpoint with game planning, but the way he’s receiving and throwing. He’s been great. Really, really, great.”
Kirk will have family members in L.A. for the big day, all of whom are looking forward to seeing Pujols, a family favorite, take the same field as Alejandro. The first phone calls to his family were moments Kirk won’t forget.
“It’s going to be very emotional being with those big-time players like Pujols and Cabrera, people that I used to see on TV,” Kirk said through a club interpreter. “Now, to be there, it will be very emotional.”
Kirk’s teammates are all in, too. The 23-year-old will be joined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Alek Manoah in the big game. George Springer was also named an All-Star for the fourth time, but will not be playing in the game as he recovers for the stretch run. And Santiago Espinal and Jordan Romano were named to the roster as replacements.
To many on the Blue Jays, Kirk has gone from the little brother to the star of the show, his humble energy and warm nature endearing him to all.
“I’m super happy. I’m very, very happy and proud of myself for the work I’ve been doing all of these years,” Kirk said. “It’s paying off.”
Kirk’s journey from Mexico to Tuesday night's start in L.A. is part of why he’s become so beloved in Toronto. Soon enough, the rest of baseball will understand why.