Byrd flying high among the stars
He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face the entire time during batting practice.
Even though he was the last guy get his cuts in during BP, Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd didn’t care. He was in a red carpet parade earlier in the day. He watched David Ortiz win the Home Run Derby last night. Even when the grounds crew was breaking down the cage and rolling up the tarp that protected the field, Byrd got four 10 swings in and that was enough.
“It’s a dream come true,” Byrd said, a first-time All-Star who was voted in by his peers. “You think about this when you’re a little kid–making the All-Star team. Now I’ve done it. But I’m just happy to be here. I’m just following everyone else. It’s just an honor to be around all these great guys.”
But Byrd, whose baseball acumen might even outweigh his baseball skills, has been known to help out teammates with small nuggets of advice. This season, he made a couple of Cubs pitchers aware that they were tipping pitches.
He picked up this skill while with Philadelphia. And in Anaheim, the chance to closely watch opponents is a rare opportunity to scout and improve his own swing.
“I’m paying attention here,” Byrd said. “I’m watching [the Brewers’] Corey Hart during the Home Run Derby and seeing how he’s keeping his hands down now….I saw [the Marlins’] Hanley [Ramirez] circling his hands down, too. So I’m trying to piece together my swing with theirs now.
“But you’re alwasy trying to improve, and what better way to do that than to be around the best?”
He patiently waited until the bottom of the fifth inning, when he was inserted into the lineup, replacing Hart in centerfield.
In the bottom of the sixth, Byrd nearly made a spectacular diving catch off an Elvis Andrus pop fly in shallow right-centerfield. The effort was applauded by the all-star crowd of 40,408, but Cubs fans know Byrd has been making catches and offering like that all season. And that’s why his peers voted him in.
In the top of the seventh, going against lefty reliever Matt Thornton from the crosstown rival White Sox, Byrd coaxes a walk then scores sliding on a double by Atlanta catcher Brian McCann.
Byrd isn’t taking anything for granted. Despite being a highly touted prospect in the Phillies organization, Byrd struggled through the first several years in his pro career, wandering through a couple of teams before finding rebirth in Texas and continued success with the Cubs.
“It’s crazy, when you first get drafted you think you’re going to the majors right away,” Byrd said. “Then you make an all-star team in the minors and you think you’re going to be a big-league All-Star, but you don’t realize how tough it is. It wasn’t an easy road for me so I really appreciate it. Never in my wildest dreams the last couple of years did I ever think I’d be here playing in the All-Star Game.”