MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Major League Baseball's 83rd all-star game will be played on Tuesday in Kansas City. To talk about baseball at the halfway point in the season, we are joined now, as we are most Fridays, by sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And going down the all-star rosters, it looks like a lot of new names in this game.
FATSIS: Yeah. Twenty-five first-timers, more than a third of the players. They include 23-year-old fast-baller Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals. He's playing in an all-star game faster than any number one draft pick ever. Then, on the other end of that, you've got R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets, a 37-year-old knuckle-baller and author, debuted in the big leagues in 2001, but he didn't stick until last year.
SIEGEL: Also, some very familiar faces. The fans elected veterans like Derek Jeter of the Yankees, David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals to start. Are they really having all-star worthy seasons?
FATSIS: Yeah. Beltran and Ortiz are. Jeter's been pretty good. These are not outrageous picks. The funny thing about baseball is, again, you've got performance plus sentiment in the all-stars, but the result still matters because the winning team gets home field advantage in the World Series. I still think this is pretty stupid.
SIEGEL: You mentioned, though, the young Stephen Strasburg, 23 years old, on the all-star team. Two even younger players are having historic seasons so far. Outfielders Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Bryce Harper of Washington.
FATSIS: Yeah. Trout turns 21 in a month. Harper doesn't even turn 20 until October and there have been a lot of comparative statistical lists on the internet ranking Trout and Harper among the best seasons by players their age, among people like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. Neither player joined his team until a few weeks into the season, but both have been integral. Trout, who was named to the all-star team, leads the American League in batting and stolen bases. His centerfield defense has been breathtaking. And Bryce Harper's numbers aren't quite as gaudy, but he seems to do something critical for the Nationals every night.
SIEGEL: The Nationals, of course, have a surprisingly large lead in the National League East Division. Any other big surprises so far?
FATSIS: Yeah. A Washington team hasn't been to the post-season since 1933 and, of course, for many of those years, there wasn't a Washington team. The Pirates moved into first place in the National League Central Division this week. They're trying to end a streak of 19 straight losing seasons, the longest in professional sports in North America. They haven't been to the playoffs since 1992.
SIEGEL: Now, the Yankees lead the American League East Division and they open a weekend series in Boston against the Red Sox tonight. Pitching for the Yankees will be Hiroki Kuroda, who is the subject of a harrowing story about playing baseball as a child in Japan.
FATSIS: Yeah. It's in today's New York Times and it's by the reporter David Waldstein. Japanese coaches are known for their discipline, repetition, hard work, but Kuroda's story is just shocking. He talks about how players would sneak away from one coach who had banned water to drink from a polluted river or a toilet, how he was paddled by coaches with a baseball bat. How, as punishment for one bad game, he was forced to run from foul pole to foul pole from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 or 10:00 at night without water for four days. He tells Waldstein it was all so ingrained in me that I still have a fear of giving up hits and runs. It's just a moving story.
SIEGEL: Stefan, thanks. Have a great weekend.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. He's also a panelist on Slate.com's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.