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Orioles catcher Matt Wieters selected to his first career All-Star Game

25-year-old is first O's backstop to make Midsummer Classic since Mickey Tettleton in 1989

By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

5:42 PM EDT, July 3, 2011

ATLANTA

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Orioles manager Buck Showalter and acting bench coach John Russell wanted to deliver the news to Matt Wieters, but there was the small matter of finding the young catcher on a day the players didn't have to report until much later. Their search took all of a couple of seconds.

About four hours before the series finale with the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, Wieters was stationed in front of his laptop in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field, watching scouting tape of the Texas Rangers hitters the Orioles will face Monday.

Wieters' dedication to his craft, his attention to detail and his emergence as one of baseball's top defensive catchers were rewarded Sunday when the 25-year-old was selected to the American League All-Star team by its manager, Ron Washington of the defending AL champion Rangers.

Wieters, the lone Oriole selected to the squad, is the organization's first catcher to be honored since Mickey Tettleton in 1989.

"A little shocked, but [it's] the most exciting news I've heard in awhile," Wieters said. "It's a huge honor to make the team. Just to make it is something you work for a long time [for], and it's real humbling.

"It will be good to get out there with some of the great players in the game. As a first-timer, it'll sort of be eyes wide open, just trying to take everything in, and have a good time with it."

Wieters is batting .262 with seven homers and 33 RBIs to go along with a .425 (23-for-54) average with runners in scoring position. Touted primarily for his hitting while becoming one of the most hyped prospects in years, Wieters has made his biggest strides with his defense. He leads all major league catchers in runners caught stealing (22) and fielding percentage (.998). He has made only one error all season and is the only catcher who has yet to allow a passed ball.

"I feel good about all the contributions he's making," Showalter said. "You think about all the pressure on this young man coming in here, he had nowhere to go. I'm always cautious about saying [how he's doing] compared to everybody else, because other people have catchers, too, that are having great years. But I can't imagine anybody catching, throwing and calling a game at a higher level than he is. [He's] getting big hits. Very deserving."

Wieters and the New York Yankees' Russell Martin will back up young Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who was voted to start for the AL in the July 12 game at the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field.

Washington gave Wieters the nod over Orioles teammates Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy, two players whose numbers stood up well against other AL players at their positions -- center fielder and shortstop, respectively.

"I could have taken a different Oriole," Washington said. "I could have taken another relief pitcher or I could have taken another outfielder. Matt Wieters is having an outstanding year for a young catcher. There's not many catchers out there with the ability and the quality that this kid has. I don't believe this will be his only All-Star Game."

It marks the fifth consecutive Midsummer Classic and the 10th in the past 11 in which the Orioles have been represented by just one player. The exception was in 2005, when an Orioles team that led the AL East for a good chunk of the first half of the season had four players in the game -- infielders Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada and closer B.J. Ryan.

Jones, who is batting .283 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs, is one of five AL players eligible to win the All-Star Game Final Vote, an Internet voting program that allows fans to select the last player on each All-Star team. Jones' competition for that final spot is Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox), Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), Ben Zobrist (Tampa Bay Rays) and Victor Martinez (Tigers).

"It's nice to be in the mix, but it's out of my hands," said Jones, who made the All-Star team in 2009 and drove in the winning run in the game. "I guess that's up to the team to campaign or not. I'll get to relax. No matter what, where I was going, I'll get to relax, get some time off. We'll see in a couple of days where I'm going."

Asked whether it was frustrating that the Orioles have gotten only one player into the game, Jones said: "It is, but it comes down to voting and it depends on how we're playing. If we're playing good baseball, more players will get in. It is what it is."

Jones said he congratulated Wieters and told him to enjoy the experience. Several other Orioles praised the organization's prized young catcher.

"Being a catcher is probably the toughest position on the field," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "He basically controls the whole game, and he keeps getting better every year. He's still young; he's an unbelievable talent. I think he's just going to get better."

A switch-hitting catcher out of Georgia Tech, Wieters was the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft. He tore through the minor leagues, batting .343 with 32 homers and 121 RBIs in 169 games before making his big league debut in May 2009 amid near-unprecedented hype.

Wieters was the subject of much criticism last season, when he hit .249 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs in 130 games. Before the year, Baseball Prospectus called him one of the most disappointing prospects of all time.

However, a lot of the criticism has subsided this season, mostly because of Wieters' knack for timely hits and his emergence defensively.

"I don't really think that there's anything that really needs to be justified," Wieters said. "We are out there playing as hard as we can. It's nice to be able to be selected to the All-Star Game, and that's what I'm taking it as. You are going out there to play your best and try to have the most success you can have."

Showalter, however, referred to the enormous expectations placed upon Wieters and acknowledged that he took a special pleasure in informing his young catcher that he was an All-Star.

"You think about all the expectations Matt had, some of them were unfair," Showalter said. "There's a toll to catching every day. [Russell's] done a great job with him. [Former bench coach Jeff Datz] did a great job with him, too, so did his mom and dad. His college coach was here last night, but try as you may, you couldn't screw up Matt Wieters. Whether it's a coach or a manger or an organization or an agent, [you] could not screw up Matt Wieters."

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