By Alex Hooper | 92.3 The Fan

CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Of the five Cleveland Indians that made the 2017 All-Star Game, Michael Brantley’s inclusion was a surprise to many.

The left fielder’s numbers were plenty deserving of an appearance in Miami, hitting .300 at the plate with five outfield assists in 66 games on the year. But what makes his selection to the game surprising is how quickly he returned to form after a long road back from shoulder surgery.

After shoulder surgery in November 2015 and another procedure on his right biceps in August 2016, the Indians were hopeful their former All-Star would return for 2017, but few knew how quickly things would turn around. Less than a year removed from his second surgery in as many years, Brantley is making his second appearance in the Mid-Summer Classic.

Through all of the hard work rehabbing the injury and shaking off the rust of playing just 11 games last season, Brantley always saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

“There were some dark days and long nights, but the training staff, the doctors kept me positive,” he said. “I just kept working, just kept going after it. Nothing was guaranteed, not even coming out of spring training. I didn’t know if I was going to make the Opening Day roster. I mean, weeks, months, whatever it was going to take, but I was lucky how everything paid off. The shoulder’s doing great and I’m very excited about it and will continue to move forward.”

Despite fairly consistent progress, there were setbacks, but the 30-year old remained steadfast in his approach, but always kept the end goal in mind.

“There was a lot of hurdles along the way,” he added. “You’ve got to play a game, then you’ve got to play a back to back, then you’ve got to play two of three. So, it wasn’t just one hurdle, I was trying to cross them one at a time, I’ll take them like that. I was making sure that we did it step-by-step and we did it the right way, and we did.

“I’m very happy with how I feel right now, I’m very lucky with how I feel right now.”

The fruits of Brantley’s labor did not go unnoticed. Though he was ultimately not named a starter, the man who has always flown under the radar to a degree was consistently just outside the top-three in All-Star voting in the AL outfield. Perhaps had it not been for Aaron Judge’s breakout season in New York, Brantley may be starting along with teammate Jose Ramirez.

The professional hitter has not blown the world away with his numbers on the year, which may make his selection to the team even more satisfying in a way.

The .300+ average carries a lot of weight around baseball, but Brantley’s ancillary numbers will not have him on many top-10 lists. That means his selection was largely based on his reputation, with peers recognizing one of the game’s best hitters posting another impressive showing.

That sentiment was echoed by his teammate, Andrew Miller, who said that he learned quickly of the respect for Brantley upon being dealt to Cleveland. The left-hander could see that everybody in the organization wanted the outfielder’s comeback to take flight, and the appreciation for Brantley’s presence during the team’s World Series run.

“I think this is a pretty special acknowledgement of how much work he’s put in, and well deserved. There’s not too many people that are going to have as many people happy and behind him as he’s got, which is a testament to who he is as a person and again, the work he put into it.”

Always humble, the respect was not lost on Brantley.

“Just to have that recognition that I play the game the right way, that I have the respect from the other side, that you kind of work for that is a goal that you go out there and play the game hard and kind of keep your head down. Just play baseball the right way,” he said. “It means a lot. I’m very thankful. I’m appreciative. Like I said before, nothing comes easy in this game. Everything is earned.”

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