Sitting at adjacent tables, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and closer Joel Hanrahan smiled as they discussed the season that is developing along the Allegheny River. Pittsburgh, which is trying to break its streak of 19 straight years with a losing record, currently resides in first place in the National League Central.
Special things are happening in the Steel City.
"The city of Pittsburgh is rocking right now," Hanrahan said, "but we're not worried about just being .500. That's not going to get you in the playoffs. That isn't going to get you where you want to be. Our goal is to win the World Series. It's to win the division, get to the playoffs and make a run."
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com
As leaders of the offense and bullpen, respectively, McCutchen and Hanrahan have helped provide cornerstones for arguably the most surprising team in the NL. They are Pittsburgh's All-Star representatives for the second season in a row, offering evidence of the team's resurgence.
"That says a lot," McCutchen said. "It's not just a player representing a team just because they need to have a player represent the team. It's because they earned their way here. That's why they're here. It says a lot for our team, for our organization."
Even before taking the field, the Pirates signified the onset of a new era by signing their young center fielder during Spring Training to a six-year, $51.5 million contract.
That pact now seems like more than a steal -- it looks like grand theft on the part of Pittsburgh.
"They need to double up his contract for him," Hanrahan said with a laugh. "I think they need to renegotiate that contract."
McCutchen entered the break batting .362, with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. He has had 14 games with three-plus hits.
The 25-year-old two-time NL All-Star has stepped up his game as few have after striking it rich. Highlighted by his absolute demolition of left-handers, McCutchen has led the Majors in batting most of the first half of the season.
"I went into last offseason saying, 'You know what? I'm going to work as if my life depended on it,'" McCutchen said. "That's what I did. I knew I had to do something different, so I did a few things different, worked harder than I've ever worked before and now it's paying off for me."
McCutchen is also on pace to become only the second 30-30 Pirates player, joining Barry Bonds (1990 and '92). And, just as it says in the TV spot, McCutchen has taken away center field with a series of highlight-reel catches.
"He's been our MVP, if not the National League MVP," Hanrahan said. "He goes out there every day and plays the game the right way. We always make fun of him about his commercial that he has, where he said he was going to take away center field, but he really has.
"He's running everything down out there, giving up his body. And what he's done with the bat, it's unbelievable."
McCutchen spent the last week before the All-Star Game break playing to a chorus of "MVP! MVP!" in PNC Park, justified recognition of his role in the Pirates' contention. Even during the first six weeks of the season, when no one around him in the lineup was hitting, McCutchen was producing enough to keep the team afloat.
"He's made a lot of progress from last year," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're seeing a young man grow up right in front of our eyes, and it's quite a privilege. It's fun, because it's our guy."
While McCutchen has been the catalyst for plenty of Pittsburgh runs, Hanrahan has been slamming the door and sealing victories.
The right-hander's trip to his second consecutive All-Star appearance indeed was more adventuresome then a year ago when, in his first full season as a closer, Hanrahan entered the break having converted all 26 of his save opportunities.
This time around, he is "only" 23 for 26, and had clean innings in only nine of the conversions. But he has also been the cover boy for the Pirates' co-op clubhouse; he saves them, or they save him. Pittsburgh has won 33 of the 35 games in which Hanrahan has appeared; his 4-0 record reflects the fact each of his blown saves immediately turned into walk-off wins.
"It's a lot more fun from my end if we're not hitting in the bottom of the ninth, though," Hanrahan says sheepishly.
Hanrahan also boasts a 2.38 ERA across his 35 appearances.
Like most second-time All-Stars, Hanrahan is looking forward to the experience with a fresh vigor.
"I have a better idea of what to do this year," Hanrahan said.
That, in essence, is the Pirates' attitude for the season's second half.
Pittsburgh tasted first place last summer, but it faded down the stretch and ended short of a winning record once again. The Pirates feel they are better equipped -- with All-Stars McCutchen and Hanrahan leading the way -- to overcome any adversity this time around.
"You learn from what we did last year," McCutchen said. "We focus on what we did right and we learn from what we did wrong. I believe that really helped us out going into this year. Now, with the second half coming up, we know what to expect and we know what to do to succeed."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.