MINNEAPOLIS -- The rains came, and three Orioles began fretting. As Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nelson Cruz watched Camden Yards puddle up late Sunday night in Baltimore, in the fifth inning of their game against the Yankees, they wondered what might become of their long-awaited trip to the All-Star Game.
"I thought we might have to go straight to the airport," Wieters said.
They didn't, of course; the Orioles won a rain-shortened game, 3-1, and their All-Star party proceeded as planned. For the third consecutive year, Baltimore sent at least three representatives to the Midsummer Classic. And thanks to Orioles chairman Peter Angelos, who chartered a plane from Baltimore to Minneapolis early Monday morning, they even made it on time.
"It doesn't matter what time we got in," Jones said. "We're all good and rested up and ready to go."
Their journey involved far more than the thousand or so miles they covered to get here. For Cruz, it meant completely reestablishing himself as an elite player following last year's suspension, while with Texas, for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Since falling to the Orioles for a bargain $8 million late in free agency, Cruz has hit .287 with 28 home runs and 74 RBIs, ranking second in the American League in each of the latter two categories.
He sat Monday with his 5-year-old son, also named Nelson, who played with a cell phone as his father answered question after question about his success. Might 50 home runs be possible? How has he moved past the suspension so quickly? That sort of thing.
"It's always fun to come and be part of the All-Star Game," Cruz said. "To share this with old players, new players, people you see playing and you want to talk about hitting or about life -- its always a great event."
That's why Wieters was all too eager to attend as well, despite a robot-like brace enveloping his surgically repaired right arm. Disabled list aside, Wieters relished the opportunity to soak up his third All-Star experience.
"Obviously I would love to be behind the plate and would love to be catching," said Wieters, who batted .308 with five homers in 26 games before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in June. "But at the same time, I'll be able to have one of the best seats in the house, and be able to be in the dugout and watch some of the greatest guys who are having some of the greatest first halves play the game."
"Happy to be here" may have taken on a new meaning for the Orioles, considering their rushed commute just to get here, and for Jones it was particularly different. Appearing in his fourth All-Star Game and second Home Run Derby, Jones spoke not only of winning the game for the American League, but also trying to do the same in the Derby -- that one just for kicks.
Jones' credentials included a .301 average, 16 home runs and continued strong defensive play in center field, which is about on par with what he's done every year since making his first All-Star appearance in 2009. Yet that summer, Jones was Baltimore's lone representative, smack in the middle of a run that saw the Orioles send a lone representative to the game 10 times in 11 years.
It's hard to justify chartering a plane for that. Yet these days, the Orioles are growing accustomed to sending far more visible contingents to the Midsummer Classic, and the players are growing used to attending; Jones, Wieters and Cruz have now appeared on a combined 10 American League All-Star rosters. The club has simultaneously bounced back from a decade and a half of mostly fourth- and fifth-place finishes to become perennial pennant race contenders.
"The fans didn't get it wrong," Jones said of his team's representation. "If you make it here once, cool. If you do it twice, you're making a statement about how you play the game."
Jones didn't harp on what he and his buddies actually did to "make it here," in the most literal sense of the phrase. Rain aside, they had managed to crash baseball's national stage in both the literal and figurative sense, and for them that was enough.
"It took forever," Cruz said, "but we're here."