Marlins' All-Star duo set for main stage
Ramirez, Johnson look to shine at Midsummer Classic
ST. LOUIS -- One is dynamic and electrifying on the field. The other is laid-back, soft-spoken, yet imposing on the mound. Together, they are representing the Marlins at the All-Star Game in St. Louis, which will be broadcast live on FOX on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson are two franchise-caliber players, and both have earned their due in the eyes of the fans, players, coaches and managers.
Ramirez, Florida's flashy shortstop, was voted in as a starter by the fans and was named by National League manager Charlie Manuel as the leadoff hitter for the Senior Circuit. The 25-year-old is the first player in franchise history to lead the NL in batting average (.349) at the All-Star break.
"I'm really happy," Ramirez said. "To be with all of those guys here for the second year, it's a dream come true. When you get respect from the other players, you've got to show that back. I think that I've done that, and they've done it for me."
Johnson, meanwhile, is 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA. The 6-foot-7 right-hander is second in the NL in innings pitched with 128. Florida is 15-4 in his 19 starts, and although he will not pitch in the game after starting on Sunday, Johnson said it was a great thrill to be present.
"It's amazing to be selected by your peers and come to this game," Johnson said. "This is the best of the best here. It's a great honor, and I've just got to make the most of it and have fun. I'll go around and try to talk to some of these guys and see if I can learn something."
The Marlins scattered after Sunday's game, but many will be watching to see their representatives.
"You can't ask for two better guys to represent your team in the All-Star Game," Marlins center fielder Cody Ross said. "You're talking about one of the most dominating pitchers in the game and one of the best players in the game. That's great for our team. That just says a lot about the Marlins.
"Now the world, they pretty much know who [both of] those two guys are, but now they are going to see them on the main stage."
Ramirez is the first Marlins player to be voted in twice by the fans. He also was their choice in 2008, getting the start in the final All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium.
"It was my first time, and there were a lot of nerves," Ramirez said. "The second time is a little bit better. I'm more experienced. This one is going to be lighter."
Johnson, a selection in the vote by the players, coaches and managers, will be making his first trip to the Midsummer Classic. Ramirez, already a wily veteran of such hectic atmospheres after last year's All-Star Game in New York, assisted Johnson in getting acclimated on the first day of the event schedule.
"I was just asking him pretty much where I was supposed to be, what I'm supposed to be doing," Johnson said. "He grabbed the schedule and pulled it out and said, 'All right, we'll meet here and here at this time.' It was nice to have somebody there to help me out."
Armed with a 97 mph fastball, Johnson has been a stable force in the Marlins' rotation. The 25-year-old has continued to ascend since his rookie season in 2006. In August '07, he underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, and he returned in July '08.
"I've come a long way in the last year and a half or so," Johnson said. "It's been a long ride, but it's been fun so far. I just want to keep it going and finish the year strong. This is the last thing I thought about when I was going through the surgery."
Being at the break with an 8-2 record and 128 innings pitched is something the Oklahoma resident -- whose parents and brothers are making the six-hour drive to St. Louis for the game -- also never could have envisioned.
"I'd take it. I'm happy with it," Johnson said. "But we're not done with it. We want to go as far as possible and make the playoffs. That's how this team thinks."
While in St. Louis, Johnson is eager to meet some of his fellow All-Stars -- pitchers like Dan Haren of Arizona and Tim Lincecum of San Francisco. Johnson said that if he could pick up a pointer or two on the topic of Haren's splitter, the trip would be well worth it.
"I saw it a couple of days ago, and it's nasty," Johnson said. "If you can add something like that to your arsenal, that will definitely help you out."
Ramirez, meanwhile, will get another chance to play on the same field as one of his childhood idols -- Derek Jeter -- and called it a "dream" to be on the same team as the Astros' Miguel Tejada. Like Jeter, the American League's starting shortstop, Ramirez wears No. 2.
"The way he plays the game," Ramirez said, when asked what he admires about the Yankees icon. "He plays hard. [He] respects the game. He's a great player."
Those superlatives, it seems, would be mutual. Jeter said on Monday that he is also a big fan of what Ramirez has been able to accomplish in Florida.
"He continues to get better, year in and year out," Jeter said. "Baseball is such a numbers game, and I think people focus too much on numbers. You can be a better player and not put up huge numbers, but he just happens to be putting up huge numbers on top of that. I think he's really progressed into a great player. He can hit, hit for power, steal bases and pretty much do everything. He's a guy I like to watch play, as long as we're not playing against him."
Ramirez has already blossomed into a superstar. His numbers are staggering: 14 home runs, 26 doubles, 61 RBIs, 109 hits and 53 runs scored.
"I've got a lot of work to do," Ramirez said. "You've got to stay focused and keep working. Never give up and never look back."
No Marlin has won the batting title. Ramirez certainly has the talent to challenge for the crown. He's a .314 career hitter, and in 2007, he hit .332.
"I think Hanley is as talented as they come," Marlins bench coach Carlos Tosca said. "There really is no way, specifically, that you can pitch him. It's the grind of every day, having to perform at that level, that probably separates the guys who are right there, year in and year out. I think Hanley is evolving into that.
"He's got enough speed. He can use the whole field. He really doesn't have any specific weaknesses in his swing. I think it's an evolution and mental toughness that guys develop."