Two thoughts went through Dave Dombrowski's mind.
|Jason Heyward has impressed in all facets of his game, including his baserunning. (Getty Images)|
"I'm happy they're not in our league," the Tigers general manager said a couple of months later. "It's great for the game to see guys like that. And I hope that they all go to the National League, except for the ones we get."
So far this year, it seems they have.
And the AL?
But no one like Strasburg, the Nationals pitcher whose starts have become must-see events.
No one like Heyward, the Braves outfielder so popular that he was voted to the National League All-Star team.
After a decade and a half of American League dominance (no NL wins in the All-Star Game since 1996, 140 more AL wins in interleague play), you wonder if the cycle is starting to turn. You wonder if the influx of young players is the first sign that the National League is either catching up or getting ready to take charge.
And you wonder if Heyward, who at 20 was the second-youngest player ever elected to start an All-Star Game, is both the leader of the wave and the biggest sign that change is coming.
It's coming. It's not here yet.
Despite all the young NL talent, the consensus is that the American League still rules. Despite all the buzz about Strasburg, Heyward and the others, none of the hot NL rookies will be on display in Tuesday night's All-Star Game.
Strasburg may or may not have deserved it. There's little question that Heyward, who will miss the game with a bruised left thumb, deserved to play.
Strasburg is the NL's rock star. Heyward, who has already helped turn the Braves into a first-place team, is the All-Star.
Braves people rave about him. Opposing players and coaches tell their favorite Heyward stories. Rival scouts wonder how in the world they let Heyward slip through all the way to 14th in the first round of the 2007 draft.
"Don't believe everything you've heard," said Roy Clark, then the Braves scouting director and now an assistant general manager with the Nationals. "We didn't pull that many tricks. Maybe 10 years from now, I'll come clean."
You wonder how he did it, because three years later Heyward seems so perfect. A great hitter. And a great defensive outfielder. And a great baserunner.
And a great kid.
"The baseball gods waved a wand over his mother when she was pregnant," Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker said.
Snitker's favorite Heyward moment? The one where he scored from second base after Chipper Jones jarred a ball loose going in hard to break up a double play.
"I couldn't even tell where the ball was," Snitker said. "And he was already on his way home."
But there was also the Heyward home run on opening day against the Cubs. And there was the series in Los Angeles in June, when Heyward went 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts against the Dodgers but still amazed Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa by the way he read a Brian McCann double off the wall and scored from first base.
"You know how an outfielder can deke a runner into thinking he's going to catch the ball?" Bowa asked. "He read it perfectly, and scored. Most veterans don't score on that ball."
After the inning, Braves first-base coach Glenn Hubbard went to Snitker and said, "There's no way he should have scored on that."
The kicker to the story is how Heyward remembers it.
"Actually, when I thought about it, I could have read that ball even better," he said.
Heyward accepts the compliments well, but he doesn't seem to dwell on them. It's like the All-Star voting. While he says he's appreciative of the fans who supported him, he won't even begin to speculate on what it means.
"I'm playing the game of baseball, and it's a team game," he said.
Ask about his amazing instincts, and Heyward tries to credit the coaches he played for as a kid in the Atlanta area.
As a local kid, he's happy to be playing for the Braves, but he discounts the idea that the hometown team had an easier time signing him out of the draft than any other team would have.
"My goal was to go as high as possible," he said. "People can speculate however they want."
Heyward says that he liked the Braves and the Yankees when he was a kid, and that while he watched the All-Star Game, he didn't really care which league won.
"I just liked to watch it," he said. "To me, that doesn't really matter much. It's about my team."
Maybe that's a natural reaction for a kid who was 6 years old the last time the National League won an All-Star Game. In his lifetime, the All-Star Game has hardly mattered, in part because the same league always won it.
In his lifetime, the American League has had the better players, and the better teams.
You wonder if that's changing. You wonder if Heyward and Strasburg and the others are the ones who are going to change it.
"I believe that," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I believe that, big time."
Dombrowski thinks so, too.
"You can see that the foundation is there for a shift," he said.
Then again, as Dodger catcher Brad Ausmus said, there is another possibility.
"Six years from now, all those guys could be in the American League," Ausmus said.