RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Major League Baseball season is a grind. It's about six months, 162 games. So now that we're about halfway through, these guys deserve a few days rest, right? They're getting it. Next week, it's the All-Star break, and the brightest stars from the National and American Leagues face off Tuesday night in Miami. This year, the Houston Astros are sending five players to the All-Star Game. That's a lot of players. That's a big deal. It is a historic turnaround.
The Astros have had a terrible record for years. They lost 111 games in 2013 alone. This year, they have turned the tables. They are the top team in baseball with the LA Dodgers on their heels. Now I have to confess, I don't watch a whole lot of baseball, so I called Jessica Mendoza to explain. She is a former Olympic softball player and now a broadcaster for ESPN. And she says the Astros managed to turn those rough years into an advantage. In Major League Baseball, the worst teams get first dibs on bright young players in the draft.
JESSICA MENDOZA: So what the Astros were able to do is, because they were bad for so long, they went and got them a Dallas Keuchel, who's their starting pitcher and has been ridiculous - Carlos Correa, who is probably the best young shortstop in a huge fleet of young players that have been stars.
MARTIN: Switching gears a bit, the All-Star game, as we mentioned, is coming up, and the rosters for that game have been announced. This is, like, the best of the best who play each other. So who were some of the other players - you mentioned a few that you're watching from the Astros - but who are some other players who are having breakout seasons?
MENDOZA: Aaron Judge who's on the Yankees. I mean, first of all, he's the biggest player that we've ever seen in the sport. OK? So this guy is 6-foot-7, 280 pounds. We have never had someone this size and weigh this much be able to play the game. But what's impressive about him is the fact that he's been able to adjust his swing and change from where he was last year - struggling, not able to make a lot of contact - to now being the most powerful home run hitter we've seen since pretty much Babe Ruth.
MARTIN: All right, you're winning me over. I might have to tune into this thing.
MARTIN: But there is a change, though, to how the All-Star Game works this year. In the past, the teams competed for what was a pretty big prize. The team that won - the league that won would have home-field advantage in the World Series. That is going away this year, so what are these guys playing for, just pride and glory?
MENDOZA: Of course. I mean, you have to remember, too - high-level athletes - I mean, if you've been around, I mean, pretty much anybody that's competitive (laughter), you're going to want a win. But I like that they've made this change because you think about it - the majority of the players that are on the field aren't going to compete in the World Series. The reason I like the All-Star Game is you see the stars be able to kind of let loose a little bit, you know. Like, it's actually fun. You want to see them compete, but you see them compete every time they're on the field. I like to see them actually joke around with each other, be able to pick each other's brains. I mean, that's the stuff you really get into.
MARTIN: That's when you want those mics that pick up those conversations...
MARTIN: ...That happen between those two players in that moment.
MARTIN: Jessica Mendoza of ESPN, thank you so much.
MENDOZA: Thanks, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING SONG, "THE PIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.