CLEVELAND -- The baby-blue shirt was a staple of Jason Kipnis' clubhouse attire in the second half last season. The Indians' second baseman insisted that it was simply comfortable, but the six words across his chest seemed to send a message:
I play for the American League
Kipnis badly wanted to suit up for the AL All-Star team last summer, but the depth at second base and his short big league resume worked against him. On Saturday, this year's All-Star teams were unveiled and Kipnis finally got his wish. He does play for the American League.
"It's a tremendous honor," Kipnis said. "New York City, nonetheless. I'll be wide-eyed for a couple days in there, and I'm going to just look to soak it all in."
The Indians will send Kipnis and starting pitcher Justin Masterson -- both first-time All-Stars -- to this year's Midsummer Classic, which will be held at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, on Tuesday, July 16. It marks the third season in a row that Cleveland will send a pair of players to represent the club at the All-Star Game.
Both Kipnis and Masterson were hand-selected by Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, who will manage the American League. Leyland -- in Cleveland this weekend for the clubs' four-game series -- spoke with both of the Tribe's All-Stars prior to Saturday's game at Progressive Field.
Indians manager Terry Francona lauded Leyland's handling of the All-Star selections.
"I knew that he would put his heart and soul and brains into it," Francona said, "and try to do the best job he could. Sometimes it's about an impossible job. Knowing him, I knew that he would do the best he could for every team."
Kipnis, who is in only his second full season as a starter for the Tribe, becomes the first Indians second baseman to earn an All-Star nod since Ronnie Belliard made the AL squad in 2004. The 26-year-old Kipnis is the youngest Cleveland second baseman to make an All-Star team since Carlos Baerga made it as a 24-year-old in 1993.
There were still obstacles in Kipnis' way for cracking the AL's roster this season.
Throughout the fan balloting, Kipnis' name was never among the top five finalists, and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano secured the starting role at his position. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has also turned in another strong first half to earn a spot on the All-Star team via the player voting.
"There's always going to be depth at the position," Kipnis said. "There's always going to be Cano, Pedroia, [Howie] Kendrick, all those guys. And they're all well-deserving."
Kipnis needed the AL to carry three second basemen in order to make the cut.
That was fine with Leyland.
"In my opinion, Jason Kipnis has been one of the hottest players," Leyland said. "He's a guy that's got a bunch of stolen bases. He's a guy that may be very useable in that game to steal a base late in the game. ... I thought he was a very worthy candidate."
Over the past two months, Kipnis went on an offensive tear that warranted attention and received national recognition.
"Kip literally just played himself into the game," Francona said. "You couldn't keep him off the team."
Twice in the month of June, Kipnis was named the American League Player of the Week. He went on to claim the AL Player of the Month honor for June after hitting .419 with a .517 on-base percentage and a .699 slugging percentage. In the breakout month, Kipnis stole nine bases, delivered 17 extra-base hits, drew 20 walks and collected 25 RBIs.
Dating back to 1916, the only other players in baseball history to have equal or better marks in average, on-base and slugging with at least nine stolen bases in one month are Hall of Famers George Sisler (June 1920) and Ty Cobb (June 1917). Over the past 20 seasons, only Barry Bonds (August 2002) and Frank Thomas (May 1994 and May 1997) had an equal or better slash line with at least 20 walks and 25 RBIs in a single month.
"It felt like if he got four at-bats, he was on base in three of them at a minimum," Indians infielder Mike Aviles said. "Every time we turned around, he was getting a hit, a good hit, a ball that was hit hard. Even if it was single, it was scorched. If it was a double, it was off the wall."
Through Saturday, Kipnis was batting .296 with a .380 on-base percentage and a .524 slugging percentage to go along with 13 homers, 22 doubles, three triples, 54 RBIs, 41 walks, 48 runs and 19 stolen bases. He joined Grady Sizemore (2008), Roberto Alomar (1999) and Joe Carter (1987) as the only Cleveland hitters in team history with at least 19 stolen bases, 35 extra-base hits and 50 RBIs before the All-Star break.
Among qualifying AL second basemen, Kipnis entered Saturday ranked first in slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits and stolen bases, second in on-base percentage, home runs, doubles, triples, RBIs and walks, third in total bases and runs and fourth in batting average.
Not bad for a player who was hitting .189 on May 1 for Cleveland.
"I definitely didn't take the smoothest path to get to this point," said Kipnis, who then praised his teammates and coaches for their support and help during his turnaround.
"I'm just glad that he was able to get the nod," Masterson said of Kipnis. "Him going through it for two months straight, being the player of the month for last month, and just doing everything that he's done to help us as a team, but also help himself, is pretty incredible."
Masterson -- Cleveland's Opening Day starter in each of the past two seasons -- will join Kipnis in New York for this year's All-Star festivities. Informing Masterson of his selection was a thrill for Francona, who also managed the pitcher during their days together with the Red Sox.
"This is a kid that I saw pitch his first game in the big leagues," Francona said. "And now he's going to go represent us in the All-Star Game. That's really thrilling. There's a lot of good things in this game that happen, and today, that was one of them."
Masterson leads the AL in groundouts (151), innings pitched (128 2/3) and shutouts (three). The right-handed sinkerballer was 10-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 19 starts, during which he has piled up 131 strikeouts (third in the AL) against 49 walks.
Masterson is the first Indians pitcher since 1994 (Dennis Martinez) to have at least three shutouts in a single season and the first to have at least three in a first half since 1985 (Bert Blyleven). Masterson has joined Gaylord Perry (1972, '74), Sam McDowell (1969, '70), Luis Tiant (1968) and Bob Feller (1940, '41, '46) as the only Tribe pitchers with at least 10 wins and 130 strikeouts in a first half.
"[Masterson] was my choice," Leyland said. "I think he's been a horse for these guys. He's got a lot of strikeouts, a lot of innings. He's taken the ball for them a lot, and I think he's a very deserving candidate."
The selection meant a lot to Masterson.
"I just feel honored," he said. "It's a hand to the whole team ... because as a starting pitcher, you go out there, but you've got to have every single guy in order to be victorious. So I'm just thankful and grateful, and it's great to have Jason Kipnis to be able to come along with this ride this year."
And the voting doesn't end there. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 84th All-Star Game -- to be played at Citi Field in New York on Tuesday, July 16 -- 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. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.