In the lead-up to the 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday, the one thing that never left John Means’ mind was the pure, unadulterated awe that’s engulfed him. He never expected to be here. At the onset of Spring Training he never even expected to even be on
In the lead-up to the 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday, the one thing that never left John Means’ mind was the pure, unadulterated awe that’s engulfed him. He never expected to be here. At the onset of Spring Training he never even expected to even be on a Major League roster. A year before that, he thought his baseball career may be on its last legs.
But now, here Means stands, proudly, an All-Star back on his way to Baltimore after his first experience at the Midsummer Classic at Progressive Field, ready to continue his breakout season and eager to remain a steady hand atop an otherwise shaky rotation.
Means joked before the game he would show up in the dugout and some of his compatriots on the American League squad, which came out victorious, 4-3, Tuesday, wouldn't know who he is.
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Means was never called upon for Tuesday’s game, but now that the overall experience has come to an end, worries about his anonymity have subsided.
“I’m actually getting a lot more love than I thought,” Means said before the game Tuesday.
That’s been showcased by the amount of interest the rookie’s changeup has generated among his peers, Means said. Some of his All-Star teammates -- youngsters like him and veterans alike -- inquired on how he’s crafted a pitch that has held opponents to a .175 average this season.
But top among those noteworthy inquirers was CC Sabathia, the former Cleveland ace and current member of the Yankees who was not an All-Star but on hand to be honored in his old stadium. The two chatted during a dinner at the week’s festivities, and Means appreciated what he learned from the 19-year veteran.
“He was telling me about the winning environment and how things are different for teams that sacrifice for each other, and that everybody knows their job,” Means recalled. “He was giving me some really, really good advice.”
Those are the kinds of experiences Means sought out in Cleveland. He kept joking about how much of a surprise it was to get the nod to the Midsummer Classic, so even without appearing in the game, he values his ascension to the experience when he began the year full of doubt.
“I don’t think disappointed is the word,” said Means, who added postgame he was told he most likely would have entered if the game went to extras. “Just living it out and trying to soak it all in.”
That was accomplished, too, from the fireworks via Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson in the Home Run Derby Monday night.
“It was probably one of the best of all time,” Means said, saying that he “was definitely looking at his swing to see what the holes were” for his AL East rival.
Simply brushing shoulders with the game’s greats -- MVPs, Cy Young Award winners and future Hall-of-Famers alike -- Means said he learned a lot about how to carry himself as a professional. He saw some of the self-trust many of his teammates and opponents in Cleveland hold, and how it’s been a big cause for what he’s been able to do.
“All these guys are just very, very confident in their stuff,” Means said. “They have no worries. [Justin] Verlander, [Gerrit] Cole -- they are so confident that they are going to be good for years and years and years and years. That confidence factor is kind of how people last.”
Has it trickled down to him yet?
“I think so,” Means said. “Coming into this year and getting to where I am, I think I do [have it].”
It remains to be seen just how Means takes this experience and uses it to fuel the remainder of the 2019 season. Regardless, from it all -- watching the Derby, signing autographs, being in the presence of other greats and riding in the back of a pickup truck with his fiancée, Caroline, to the red carpet ceremony -- it was a three-day stretch he’ll never forget.
“It was weird sitting in the back of a truck and waving like I was the prom queen or something,” Means laughed.
At least for the Orioles and their fanbase, he’s encroaching upon royalty.