Orioles' All-Star presence proves they 'have really turned the corner'

Eighteen times, he suited up for baseball's All-Star Game. No American Leaguer has played in more. The two trophies Cal Ripken Jr. won as the game's Most Valuable Player gleam, plain to see, in the former Oriole's Reisterstown home.

Ripken played in the All-Star Game during the Orioles' lean years — four times, he made the trip alone. And he played in 1997 when, for the first time in history, fans picked three Orioles — Ripken, Roberto Alomar and Brady Anderson — to start the midsummer classic.

Now, they've done it again. And when Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy take the field Tuesday night at Citi Field in New York — with Manny Machado in the dugout as a reserve — Ripken says the experience will offer a new level of validation for the upstart Orioles.

"It [All-Star voting] is an affirmation that you're good, and it's extra special when your teammates are there, and you're together in that clubhouse, and you can stick your chest out," said Ripken, 52.

"We know, here in Baltimore, that we're playoff-caliber. The success the Orioles had last year put a lot of these guys on the map. But the All-Star Game is one that everyone sees, so when people ask, 'Are these guys for real?' all you have to do is look at that lineup."

The Orioles have four All-Star representatives for the first time since 2005 and just the second time since the turn of the century. The starters were voted in by the fans, and reserves are chosen through voting by players, coaches and managers and through choices by the manager of the reigning league champion.

"It's always fun to do things you've never done before," said Davis, a first-time All-Star, "but when you can do it with guys that you're battling with on a day-to-day basis, I think you can appreciate it that much more. I thought for a while we might have nine starters in the All-Star Game the way the fans were voting, and we appreciate that. That means a lot to us, knowing our fans are behind us and that there are fans around the country that are behind us as well. I'm excited to goof off with these guys for the three days we're there."

The balloting is proof that the club is no fluke, other Orioles greats agreed.

"It's certainly indicative that your core players are good, and of how far this franchise has come — and that, after 14 straight losing years [1998-2011], the Orioles aren't the poor child anymore," said Jim Palmer, 67, a six-time All-Star pitcher and current MASN analyst. "It's great when fans all over the country know that."

Former Birds, too.

"We've been waiting for a long, long time," said Brooks Robinson, 76, the Hall of Fame third baseman. "This shows that the Orioles have really turned the corner. Three starters? For all those losing seasons, we were lucky to have one guy make the team."

Like Ripken, Robinson played in 18 All-Star games and once was named the game's MVP (1966). Each collected 13 hits, fifth-best behind Willie Mays (23). Moreover, both Orioles fielded their positions cleanly. Robinson handled 43 chances without a miscue; Ripken, 41. With America watching.

"I'm proud of never having made an error," Robinson said. "I went into every All-Star Game thinking I could be the best player on the field."

He expects no less from this year's Orioles contingent, including the third baseman Machado. At 21, Machado is younger than either Robinson (23) or Ripken (22) in his first All-Star appearance.

"I'd love to see [Machado] in the game," Robinson said. "It amazes me how he's made the transition from shortstop to third. He looks like he's played there his whole life. But if you've got good hands and the instincts, it's no big deal."

Likewise, Ripken is excited for Hardy at shortstop, the Iron Man's niche for much of his Hall of Fame career.

"I love how J.J. has brought stability to the middle of the infield," Ripken said. "He's smart and he does things easily."

Ripken sees their selection as helping forge the futures of players like Machado and Davis, baseball's current home run leader and another first-time All-Star.

"For young guys, confidence is the name of the game — and it can be very fragile," Ripken said. "One minute you're on top of the world; the next, you're the worst player in the league. Being named an All-Star is a big lift mentally, the equivalent of having several good seasons.

"You try to be cool in that red-carpet environment, but when I got into my first game, in 1983, my heart was pounding through my chest — and I didn't even play until the sixth inning. But it was a big boost to my confidence for the second half of the season."