CLEVELAND -- Hunter Pence was just trying to make the team and keep his career alive.
Joey Gallo wanted to show he was not just another big lug who either hit the ball out of the ballpark or whiffed completely.
Mike Minor was determined to show his shoulder problems were in the past and didn’t need to be treated like a fragile porcelain doll who could break down at any moment.
That really wasn’t at the top of anybody’s list when those three reported to Surprise, Ariz. for Spring Training last February. Then again, not many people thought the Rangers would be six games over .500 at the All-Star break.
They are, and Pence, Gallo and Minor will represent the Rangers on the American League team for the All-Star Game.
All three have had amazing seasons considering what they had been through.
“I think it’s an incredible message to everyone out there that may be going through a tough time,” Pence said. “I’ve found that the toughest times in my life, when I look back at them, they helped shape me into a better person. I hope that’s the message in us, 'Hey look at these three guys. Through crazy injuries some people gave up on them and they didn’t give up on themselves and persevered.'”
Pence and Minor are in Cleveland but won’t play. Pence is on the injured list with a strained right hamstring and is still a week or two away from returning. Minor is ineligible because earlier last week the Rangers decided he would pitch on Sunday.
Major League Baseball replaced him with Indians pitcher Shane Bieber. The Rangers then decided not to pitch Minor on Sunday, but it was too late to change his All-Star status.
That does not change the honor.
“It means a lot,” Minor said. “It means all the hard work that I have put in to get back paid off. It feels good because I had a lot of doubters along the way. It’s just one of those things I can put a notch in my belt. Being an All-Star.”
Minor was viewed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Braves in 2011-'14 before missing two seasons while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The Royals signed him as a reliever in 2017 and he was effective in that role before becoming a free agent.
Many teams wanted to sign him as a reliever, but the Rangers gave him a three-year deal with the promise he would be given a chance to start again. Minor made a successful transition last year, going 12-8 with a 4.18 ERA despite being limited to 157 innings.
Minor admitted he was frustrated by being treated carefully last season in his first year back as a starter even though it proved to be the right thing to do. Woodward took the shackles off this spring and made him the Opening Day starter. Minor has met the challenge, going 8-4 over 18 starts with a 2.54 ERA that’s the second-lowest in the American League.
“I remember him making a comment, ‘I always wanted to be a No. 1 and prove to people I’m not a four or five,’” Woodward said. “That’s pretty special for him to do that and have the year he is having. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long time. I know it means the world to him.”
Gallo is having the kind of year the Rangers have long hoped for but wondered if it would ever come to pass. The signs were there. In 2017-'18, Gallo combined to hit 81 home runs, with a .516 slugging percentage. But, he also struck out 403 times with a .208 batting average, causing people to view him as a one-trick slugger.
Gallo hated that reputation and was open to suggestions from new hitting coaches Luis Ortiz and Callix Crabbe. They preached to him about being more selective and controlling the strike zone. Gallo still strikes out, but he has 20 homers in 61 games along with a slash line of .275/.417/.643.
“Our staff told me earlier in the year and in the off-season, 'Hey, you can be an All-Star if you do these things and you commit to the process,'” Gallo said. “I did and now I am here, so it’s nice to have it pay off and be on that team. A lot of hard work and discipline and patience. It feels good that I can finally say that I am an All-Star.”
Gallo missed over three weeks in June with a strained oblique muscle, so he doesn’t have enough plate appearances yet to show up in the official league leaders. Otherwise, his 1.060 OPS would be second in the American League to Mike Trout, who is at 1.098.
“Experience is starting to help a little bit,” Gallo said. “Our staff this year has been great in having us prepared for every game. Things are going right for me. I’ve learned from the ups and downs. Early in this career, I used to get frustrated if I didn’t have a good game. Now I understand it’s going to happen. I learn from it and move on.”
Woodward said more than any other Rangers plater, Gallo has bought into the new approach being adopted by the Rangers hitting staff.
“Joey has come a long way,” Woodward said. “It’s an amazing run he has had and the buy-in he has had from day one. He has changed so much. One thing about Joey is he is very perceptive. Everybody thinks he is Happy Gilmore, he just hits homers and strikes out. He wants to be a better player overall.
“He still has a long way to go but his numbers are ridiculous. It’s good for him because he sees himself as one of the elite players in the game and he's going to a place where all the elite players are going.”
Gallo does have one thing in common with the rest of his teammates. He is thrilled that Pence was voted in as the starting designated hitter.
“There couldn’t have been anybody better on this team to make the team,” Gallo said. “For what he has been through…to be an All-Star on a team he wasn’t even starting on at the beginning of the year, it just says a lot about him as a person and a teammate.”
Pence has been to three All-Star games previously but the last was in 2014. He wasn’t an All-Star last year with the Giants. He had to deal with a sprained right thumb and set career lows with a .226/.258/.332 slash line in 97 games. At 35 years old, many people thought he was done.
“I had people who would walk by me and congratulate me on a great career and wish me well in retirement,” Pence said. “It was a kind and loving gesture, and I appreciated it. I would say, 'Thank you so much.' Don’t even argue with them. But, to be standing here now from that standpoint is crazy.”
Pence did not retire. He worked with private hitting coach Doug Latta to overhaul his swing and went to winter ball in the Dominican Republic to test it out. He signed a Minor League contract with the Rangers to play in his hometown of Arlington even though there wasn’t a clear role for him.
Pence made the team as a fourth outfielder but kept forcing Woodward to put him in the lineup because of his production. In 55 games, Pence has homered 15 times with a .294/.353/.608 slash line.
“I feel like a different player than I was," Pence said. "I was literally in tears when I knew teams were going to give me a chance. I know I didn’t play well enough. I had no idea. I didn’t know if I was going to have to go play in another country. I’m just so happy to be here.”
All three had different roads to travel but have achieved their destination.