DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado appreciates the rewards that get dropped like so many chocolates along the long and somewhat painful journey that is baseball's regular season.
So being elected to start for the National League in the All-Star Game -- for his third straight start and fifth straight year overall -- is Arenado's big, sweet treat.
It brought a smile to Arenado's face, even though he is dealing with pain from his left big toe. He twice fouled pitches off it, once during the Rockies' previous homestand and again in a just-completed road trip that saw the team go 5-4.
The toe hurts to the point that Arenado was counting the days to the All-Star break. But he felt much better knowing the fans smiled upon him again.
"It's amazing. It is," Arenado said, not containing his smile. "This morning, I woke up and I was like, 'There's nine games to the break. Go as hard as you can for these nine games.'
"Then I get to go to the All-Star Game and enjoy it. It is a boost. It's definitely exciting. It gets me fired up to go play tonight. Not that I needed it, but it definitely helps."
Arenado is now tied with Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki for most All-Star selections in club history.
The 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard will be played on Tuesday, July 9, at Progressive Field in Cleveland. It will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. During the game, fans may visit MLB.com and the 30 club sites to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, please visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.
Even after an 8-for-25 road trip, Arenado entered Thursday's action sixth in the NL in batting (.317), tied for fourth in RBIs (62), fourth in hits (97) and multi-hit games (29, tied) and second in games with three or more hits (11).
There is current excellence, but the honor is the culmination of a comeback story. Arenado started slowly. It wasn't until April 14 that he hit the first of the 19 home runs he carried into Thursday night. The obvious question is whether the eight-year, $260 million contract he signed during Spring Training was weighing on him. But he insisted it was simply a baseball issue.
"It's just a matter of finding a way to get comfortable," Arenado said. "I feel like I ended the 2018 season on a bad note personally [2-for-11 with one RBI as the Rockies were swept in three games by the Brewers in the NL Division Series]. So I went into the year just a little uncomfortable.
"I was like, 'Man, am I going to hit any homers? I didn't hit any homers at the end of '18, too. This isn't good.' Just a little bit of frustration, but I stayed with it. I knew there was a lot of season left, and there's still a lot of season left now."
Arenado's .381 on-base percentage is even an improvement from last year's career-best .374. The strikeout rate has plummeted, also -- 13.1 percent this year, down from 18.1 percent last year. His career best, 12.4 percent, came in a season when a fractured finger limited him to 111 games.
"Right now, I'm more a well-rounded hitter," he said. "I'm putting the ball in play more than just striking out. I'm doing a better job of using the whole field. Defensively, I think I've been doing good. My arm is better than last year, little things like that."
Arenado was voted into the starting lineup through the Google 2019 All-Star Ballot, a first-time, two-step system that had three players at each position (and nine outfielders total) advance to the Starters Election after a Primary Round. Shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon were finalists who not elected to the starting lineup, but they still can be named through the system for filling out the roster.
Arenado said he would likely pass on Home Run Derby this year, but he has set that as a goal for next year when the game is at Dodger Stadium (Arenado is from Orange County, Calif.). And as long as he can play reasonably well, he won't let the current toe injury knock him out of this year's Midsummer Classic.
"If it's serious pain or serious injury, I wouldn't go out there and play. But if I'm hurting bad, maybe I'll just do one at-bat and that's it," Arenado said. "But I'm going to play. I earned it. The fans voted for me, and I owe it to them to go play."