American League pitcher Nestor Cortes, of the Yankees, uses an earpiece...

American League pitcher Nestor Cortes, of the Yankees, uses an earpiece and microphone to talk to catcher Jose Trevino, also of the Yankees, betfore throwing a pitch to the National League during the sixth inning of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill

LOS ANGELES – Gerrit Cole, now a five-time All-Star, says it’s an honor he never takes for granted.

But, in stating that, the Yankees’ ace said watching first-time All-Stars – especially those from his own team like Nestor Cortes, Jose Trevino and Clay Holmes – is the highlight of the event for him.

“I love the first-timers. The first timers are the best,” Cole said. “A lot of guys, like in smaller markets, that don’t have a lot of media attention and it’s overwhelming with the lights and the pageantry and the flyovers and all the great players…it’s just like an overstimulation that never leaves you that first time.”

Cortes, Holmes and Trevino are coming from the biggest market there is so the media crush isn’t that different to them.

But Cole’s sentiments still hold true.

“It’s definitely surpassed my expectation,” Cortes said in the American League clubhouse about three hours before Tuesday night’s first pitch. “As a fan and as a kid watching these games, you don’t know what really happens behind the scenes, you just appreciate everybody that’s out there. But after seeing so much talent in one room, and so many to-be legends, like Miggy [the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera] and Justin Verlander [of the Astros], it’s special to share the same room and be part of the fraternity of being an All-Star. Everything has been pretty special so far.”

Holmes, who like the rest of the Yankees’ contingent here – a group that includes Aaron Judge, Cole and Giancarlo Stanton to go along with the three first-timers – spent much of Monday night watching wide-eyed at times from the sideline during the Home Run Derby.

One of the things to watch Tuesday was a two-run homer by Stanton in the fourth inning.

“It’s been incredible,” Holmes said of the All-Star experience. “I think just now it’s starting to sink in, being a part of some of the activities. It’s just a special atmosphere. It’s been an incredible experience overall.”

An experience Judge, a four-time All-Star, told the newbies to soak in as much as possible.

“This is going to be a great moment for them,” Judge said. “I talked to them and said, ‘Hey, enjoy every moment because it’s going to go fast.’ Even when you’re getting pulled in eight different directions to do this and that, come sign this, take pictures here…enjoy it because very few get this opportunity.”

Holmes said he took the opportunity to meet as many players as possible from both sides and Cortes said when he saw some down time he took the opportunity to meet Cabrera, a childhood hero, “shake Mike Trout’s hand,” and “personally meet” Trout’s Angels teammate, Shohei Ohtani.

Additionally, “I talked to Justin Verlander for a few [minutes] about pitching. Just talking about that with him was pretty cool.”  

Meetings Cortes won’t soon forget, much in the way Judge said he’ll never forget his first All-Star Game, the 2017 edition in Miami during the outfielder’s rookie season.

“I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan, diehard, and I remember stepping in the box and I’ve got Buster Posey catching [for the NL],” Judge said. “And it’s like, ‘I watched you win World Series for the Giants and now I’m at an All-Star Game with you in the box.’ It was kind of hard not to fangirl a little bit while in the box.”

Holmes and Cortes can associate, as can Trevino. The trio, Cole said, are one of the best parts of this event – the come-from-nowhere stories of players who were not necessarily touted draft picks and/or prospects, but nonetheless made it to one of the sport’s biggest stages.

“Those are the stories you like, and you hope come back [to future All-Star Games] because then it just keeps getting better and better,” Cole said. “Everybody’s first All-Star Game has a unique story, [even if] they’re expected to make it, you’re excited that they’ve achieved that. But [the players] where it’s just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here!’ that’s always a good one, too.”

As good as the respective stories of Trevino, Holmes and Cortes are, however, Judge said not to lose sight of the behind-the-scenes work making the stories possible.

“They’re all hard workers. It’s not by chance that they’re here. They’re guys that put in the work when no one’s watching,” Judge said. “The work I’ve seen Clay do in the offseason. I faced him a little bit during the lockout, he’s throwing 99 [mph] sinkers in on my hands and (I’m thinking), I know I can’t hit this, who else is going to hit this? This is impossible. Then the constant work I’ve seen from Trevino. The minute we traded for him, Day 1, he’s trying to build that relationship with the pitchers…It’s not by accident. The same with Nestor. We saw a glimpse of it last year and a lot of people might have written him off and said, ‘Oh, it’s just a couple months thing.’ But he was another guy who went right back to work, wanted to improve. It’s just good to see their hard work finally paid off.”

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