MINNEAPOLIS -- The sight of Yoenis Cespedes launching home runs into the upper deck in left field at Citi Field is an image ingrained in the mind of every baseball fan fortunate enough watch the Oakland outfielder put on a show at last year's Home Run Derby in New York.
The bat flips were incredible. The cheers were deafening. The photos of Cespedes and his mother holding the championship trophy afterward were unforgettable.
This year's All-Star Game experience could be even better. This time around, Cespedes is here to stay. In addition to repeating as Derby champ on Monday, Cespedes will play in the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday.
Now Cespedes truly feels like an All-Star.
"It just feels different. I can't explain why, but it's not the same," Cespedes said Monday hours before the start of the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby. "To be invited here, you feel like you belong. People want to see you play and contribute to the game. It's a big difference, and I'm going to do my part."
It's already been quite a season for Cespedes. He's hit 14 home runs, driven in 56 runs and has ridden his powerful throwing arm to 11 outfield assists.
The A's (59-36) have the best record in baseball and lead the Angels in the American League West standings by 1 1/2 games.
Cespedes says the secret to his team's success this season is really no secret at all.
"We're really prepared, and for me, one of the biggest things is that we are a young team with young players," he said. "We have a lot of desire to play the game, and we show up each day to have some fun. That's part of the reason things have gone so well. Also, the pitching has been outstanding, and the hitting we have all around the lineup."
If Cespedes looks comfortable in Minnesota, it's because he is. There are seven A's (including Jeff Samardzija, who is in Minneapolis as a National League All-Star) in this year's All-Star Game, and five players from Cespedes' native Cuba. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman and White Sox teammates Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez are also from his island.
"All of us being here says a lot about how far we have come and how good we can play," Cespedes said. "We've come here and had some success. We showed the quality of talent we have. To be able to be here with all of my countrymen is an excellent experience."