Harrison, Watson revel in All-Star experience

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's not overly surprising that a college baseball veteran such as Pirates reliever Tony Watson would view perhaps the most notable accomplishment of his career as a learning experience.

Watson, who grew up in Iowa and played baseball at Nebraska, returned to his Midwestern roots Monday. He met media at a downtown hotel prior to his turn as a member of the National League All-Star team determined to learn as much as he can from his teammates.

“I'm just trying to meet as many of these guys as I can,” Watson said. “They're all very talented, so I've picked their brains and honestly just enjoy it. You don't know how many of these you're going to be able to get to, and it might be the last one ever, so we try to just have as much fun with it as you can.”

Immediately, it was a kind of Cornhuskers reunion for Watson. A decade ago, he played in Lincoln, Neb., alongside Royals outfielder Alex Gordon. On Monday, they reconnected and shared a few stories of their days in red.

“It's great for Nebraska baseball,” the Pirates left-hander said. “It's crazy to think that we were on the same team in college almost 10 years ago, but to be still doing what we're doing and to be at the All-Star Game in the major leagues is pretty special.”

A few feet away, smothered by dozens of media members, Pirates star Andrew McCutchen took in a scene he has become familiar with as he prepared to play in his fourth consecutive All-Star Game. He said he was happy to offer friendly advice, and some fashion advice, to Watson and fellow first-timer Josh Harrison.

“I told them it can sometimes be a little overwhelming, but for the most part, try to take it all in and make of the most of it,” said McCutchen, who will start in center field and lead off for the National League. “They were more worried about what do you wear. That's kind of what every guy asks for this, ‘What do I have to wear?' So I let them know. They're having a good time.”

For Harrison, being at an All-Star Game isn't totally new. He was named to All-Star teams in two Single-A leagues, at Double-A and at Triple-A. But he admitted this experience is something different entirely.

“It's been a blessing. You always dream of stuff like this, and to finally get here, the past week I didn't know how things were going to go,” Harrison said. “Now my family's here, and they got here smooth, it's been a fun transition. There's a lot of things going on so you just want to take it all in.”

Watson needed 15 tickets for friends and family, and he said several other friends and old coaches said they would be in Minneapolis for the game. Cognizant of the World Series home-field advantage at stake, Watson's primary goal is winning the game. For Harrison, who brought two outfield gloves and two infield gloves to Target Field, the goals are simpler — just get on the field at some point.

“I'm not starting but ready to get in there, double switch, pinch hit. I'm looking to get in there in any way I can,” Harrison said. “I'm ready to roll wherever they put me. I bring all my gloves for a reason.”

Jess Myers is a freelance writer.

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