And it got even better this week when it was announced that Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jonny Venters will both be appearing in their first All-Star Game as members of the National League this Tuesday night in Arizona.
Weeks was actually doubly honored as not only will he be the starting second baseman for the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers leadoff man has also been picked by Captain and Brewer teammate Prince Fielder to be a member of the National League Home Run Derby Team.
The 2011 State Farm Home Run Derby will take place on Monday at Chase Field in Phoenix at 8 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
American League Captain David Ortiz (.301, 17 HR, 49 RBI) and Fielder (.299, 21 HR, 69 RBI) each determined the other three participants on their teams and personally extended the invitations as part of a new Derby format featuring a team competition between the American League and National League.
Representing the host National League along with Fielder, the 2009 Derby winner in St. Louis, and Weeks, who was hitting .277 with 15 home runs and 34 RBI at time of the announcement, will be St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday (.316, 10 HR, 40 RBI); and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who is tied for the National League lead with 22 home runs and has an N.L.-best .611 slugging percentage.
Ortiz was the champion of the 2010 Derby in Anaheim and has 68 total home runs in four previous Derby appearances (2004-06, 2010), which is tied for second-most all-time behind Ken Griffey, Jr.'s 74 homers.
Joining "Big Papi" will be his teammate, Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who holds the American League's top marks with a .348 batting average and 75 RBI, along with 16 homers; Toronto Blue Jays outfielder/third baseman Jose Bautista, the Major League leader with both 27 home runs and a .679 slugging percentage; and New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (.294, 14 HR, 54 RBI).
As captains, both Fielder and Ortiz will select a charity for which they will be hitting during the Derby. State Farm and Major League Baseball will donate a significant amount of money for charity through the event.
The donations will be made as follows:
• $150,000 will be awarded to the winning captain's charity in his name
• $100,000 will be awarded to Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) in the name of the winning captain
• $25,000 will be awarded to the charity of the captain of the losing team in his name
• The remainder will be donated to BGCA on behalf of State Farm and MLB
The total amount of money distributed will be determined by the home runs hit during the competition. State Farm and MLB will combine to donate $18,000 for every home run hit with a Gold Ball during the competition. The dollar figure was selected to coincide with the number of State Farm agents throughout the U.S. and Canada. State Farm will also give $3,000 to BGCA for every non-Gold Ball hit during the Derby. Both Fielder and Ortiz have been supporters of BGCA, including participating in public service announcements.
While the format to determine the individual champion will remain unchanged, the total number of home runs hit by all players in all rounds will be tabulated for the A.L. and N.L. to determine the winning team, captain and charity recipient. Each player will get 10 outs per round, the four players with the highest total of home runs will advance to the second round, and the two players with the highest cumulative number of home runs in the first two rounds will advance to the Championship Round, where first and second round home runs do not carry over for individual scores.
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday at Chase Field and will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Weeks, who passed Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips for the top spot at second base last week, earns his first career All-Star selection with 4,460,395 votes, ahead of his N.L. Central rival, who totaled 4,273,079.
After gaining more recognition as a football player than a baseball player at Lake Brantley, Weeks attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA where he was a finalist for the 2004 James E. Sullivan Award as the United States top amateur athlete and was a two-time All-American. He was the recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy as the national collegiate player of the year during his senior year. In spring 2003 at Southern University he batted an astonishing .500.
After being the No. 2 overall selection in the 2003 MLB Draft, Weeks made his major league debut on September 15, 2003, shortly after inking a contract which included a $3.6 million signing bonus, but did not become a full-time player for the Brewers until June 2005.
On February 16 of this year, Weeks signed a contract extension for 4 years at 38 million dollars. The deal includes an option for a 5th year provided Weeks is an everyday player in 2013 and 2014, and could raise the total value of the contract to 50 million dollars.
Heading into play on Friday, Weeks was hitting .275 with 16 home runs, 20 doubles and two triples to go along with 37 RBI in 88 games.
Despite the two tough outings week, Venters received his first career All-Star selection via votes cast by other NL players. Venters finished second in the player balloting for NL relievers, trailing Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan by six votes.
Venters' selection pleased a number of Braves, who were concerned he might be affected by the two hiccups he experienced this past week. The valuable left-handed setup man had allowed just three runs in 48 1/3 innings before surrendering four two-out runs during a June 24 game against the Padres. Three days later, he surrendered a homer for just the second time in a career that has included 134 innings.
Still, since making his Major League debut last year, Venters has proven to be one of the games' best relievers. Dating back to the start of 2009, he ranks first among Major League relievers in appearances (125) and fifth in ERA (1.81).
Venters was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 30th round of the 2003 Major League Baseball Draft, but had to overcome several health issues before finally being called up to the majors for the first time on April 17, 2010. He made his debut that day against the Colorado Rockies, allowing one hit and no runs over three innings.
He was named a relief pitcher on Baseball America's 2010 All-Rookie Team. He tied for 8th in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year, behind Ike Davis of the New York Mets, after going 4-4 with one save, 24 holds and four blown saves and an ERA of 1.95. In 79 appearances over 83 innings he allowed just 61 hits and 30 runs (18 earned), while striking out 93 and walking 39.
So far in 2011 (July 8), Venters is 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 49 games (53-1/3 innings) with three saves, 19 holds and two blown saves. He has struck out 57 and walked 20.
Venters primarily utilizes his sinker, which he throws with exceptional velocity (94-96 mph). He achieved a near-70% ground ball rate in 2010, leading all qualified MLB pitchers. He also possesses a plus slider, thrown at 84-87 mph as a change-of-pace.