On his way to Nationals Park this morning, Matt Capps called his mother, Kathy, as he typically will on a Sunday. They talked for a few minutes, about nothing out of the ordinary, and Matt Capps hung up as he pulled into the ballpark.
But later in the morning, "probably about 10:00 or 10:30," Kathy Capps got another call from her son. The second phone call, so shortly after the first one, was odd, so she pulled away from the church program she was watching on TV at home in Douglasville, Ga..
"He had just found out I was getting over being sick recently, and he said, 'Mom, you've got to get better so you can go to Anaheim with me,'" she said. "I said, 'Do what? Do what?'"
For some players, All-Star selections are an annual rite of summer. For others, they mean something more. For Capps, the Nationals closer who was named to his first All-Star team on Sunday, it's impossible not to see the honor as a reward of faith, a sweet vindication for a player who'd just endured some of the most hellish months he'll ever face.
â€¨Matt Capps' father Mike died of a heart attack on Oct. 22, and six weeks later, he was non-tendered by the Pirates after the worst season of his career. When he picked the Nationals over the Chicago Cubs in December, it was partly because the team represented a surer opportunity to close games, while keeping him closer to home and giving him three trips a year to Atlanta.
Even Capps' rosiest predictions of how things could've gone in Washington probably wouldn't have looked like this. He's led the National League in saves for most of the year (though he's currently second behind San Diego's Heath Bell), and was one of only three relievers voted on to the team via the player ballot.
More than that, though, he's found a home in Washington. He's quickly become a fan favorite, with "let's go Capps" chants migrating from the Verizon Center and the nickname "Clipp and Save" becoming such a popular way to refer to Capps and setup man Tyler Clippard that the Nationals put it on a T-shirt last month.
"To be able to represent the Washington Nationals, and what that stands for - not only the city, but the people in this room, and the organization and they way they've treated me," Matt Capps said, "it's an honor for me to be able to do it."
â€¨Said Kathy Capps: "I don't know that anybody will understand how special it was to him, especially this year. The Nationals are a godsend, as far as I'm concerned."
Capps had started the day unaware that the All-Star announcement would come today; when he was pulled into a room to talk to general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Jim Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty, he initially feared something was wrong.
But the news quickly turned Capps' morning into an emotional one. He called his wife Jennifer first, and then redialed his mother's number.
"It was tough for me to tell her without breaking down," Matt Capps said.
His mother's phone line became the epicenter of the news as it raced across the family. Matt had reserved a few phone calls for himself - his wife and his brother Chris - but Kathy Capps got to make and take the rest of them.
One came from her 87-year-old mother, Lillian Dicus, who lives in North Carolina with most of the family. Matt Capps purchases the MLB Extra Innings package for his grandmother every season, and she watches every game he pitches.
But of everyone in his life, Matt Capps' thoughts went almost immediately to his father.
Mike Capps was Matt's coach in Little League, and never really stopped. The two would talk almost nightly during the season, with Mike Capps pointing out pitching tips or just listening to his son work through his struggles with the Pirates, and the loss ripped away a key part of Capps' support structure.
He's played the 2010 as a testament to his father's instruction, taping a series of quotes in his locker and pitching each day the way his dad taught him; attacking hitters, never shying away from a challenge and using that philosophy as a salve when he got beat - that he lost with his best stuff.
"Even this morning when they told me, I wished he could see it," Matt Capps said with tears in his eyes. "But he'll be with me."
So will his mother - "'This will be the first time I've ever gone past Texas,'" she said - as well as his wife and her family, and possibly his brother.
His father will be there, too, in a role still more real to him than just in spirit.
"His daddy was a very important person in his life," Kathy Capps said. "This means an awful lot. It's a dream I never would have dreamed at all. Being proud is not enough to say."
And in a Southern accent so thick it made the last word sound like "flower," Kathy Capps said, "I haven't hit the floor."