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New kids on the block at All-Star game

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bobby Abreu, of Venezuela, holds his country's flag as he celebrates his win in the Home-Run Derby Monday at Comerica Park in Detroit. Abreu hit 41 homeruns, 11 in the final round to defeat Detroit Tigers' Ivan Rodriguez.

DETROIT -- John Smoltz recalled feeling awkward when he went to Anaheim for his first All-Star game in 1989.

"I was so fish-out-of-water," the Atlanta Braves pitcher said. "I didn't know if I was coming or going."

There were a lot of wide-eyed All-Stars at Monday's workouts, no doubt resembling Smoltz 16 years ago.

Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. were nowhere to be seen. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi weren't around, either.

"It could be the next wave," said the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee, among 13 players making their first All-Star starts. "It has to happen at some point. Guys can't play forever."

NL manager Tony La Russa looked forward to seeing how the young studs would do in Tuesday night's All-Star game at Comerica Park.

"I think the first-timers are some of the most fun for either squad," he said. "These guys are not going to be cool and 'What's the big deal?"'

Of course, there are some exceptions. Roger Clemens, a month shy of his 43rd birthday, was picked for the 11th time. Due to arrive Tuesday afternoon, the Rocket played in his first All-Star game in 1986, when Lee was just 10.

And then there's 40-year-old Kenny Rogers, who received the most attention at the All-Star media availability, held at the hotel in suburban Dearborn where the players are staying. The Texas Rangers pitcher was suspended July 1 for 20 games and fined $50,000 for an outburst that sent a television cameraman to the hospital and prompted a police investigation. Be-cause the players' association appealed, Rogers can't be penalized until after a hearing and a decision by commissioner Bud Selig.

He spent 45 minutes answering and avoiding questions.

"I figured everyone would be at this table. I'm sure the rest of the guys love this, because they don't have to worry about it," he said. "I'll take whatever shots people give me, and at the end, I'll still be standing."

So is Tiger Stadium, about 2 miles away. The site of the famous 1971 All-Star game, where Reggie Jackson hit the light tower, is shuttered these days, with no determination made on what the future will hold for the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

Comerica Park, which replaced Tiger Stadium in 2000, is one of the few pitchers' parks to open in the bandbox era. Still, Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu hit a 517-foot shot onto the porch above the back row of right-field bleachers during Monday night's Home Run Derby and hit a record 41 homers in all, 14 more than the mark Miguel Tejada established last year in Houston.

Abreu opened with a single-round record of 24, hit six in the semifinals, then beat Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez 11-5 in the finals. Abreu's homers totaled about 17,555 feet -- more than three miles -- turning the expansive field into a hitters' haven.

"I don't know if I can sleep tonight," he said. "I know it's going to be tough to go to bed."

As for Tuesday night's game, La Russa's Cardinals have four players in the starting lineup, with pitcher Chris Carpenter joining center fielder Jim Edmonds, shortstop David Eckstein and designated hitter Albert Pujols -- it would have been five if third baseman Scott Rolen hadn't pulled out because of a sore right shoulder.

Boston, which swept St. Louis in the World Series, also has four starters: left fielder Manny Ramirez, center fielder Johnny Damon, designated hitter David Ortiz and catcher Jason Varitek.

No team had placed that many players in the starting lineup since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds had five, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Terry Francona earned the right to manage the AL team because he led Boston to its first World Series title since 1918.

"After 86 years of passion, frustration, fanatical fans and a lot of genuine love for their team, I'm very excited and honored," he said.

Damon compared the Red Sox to the Harlem Globetrotters, saying they had become as much celebrity entertainers as ballplayers.

"People stop and stare," he said. "They ask, 'Did you see the Red Sox walking down the street?"'

For the third straight season, the league that wins the All-Star game gets homefield advantage in the World Series. The AL has won the last seven All-Star games played to a decision, and the Red Sox started their Series sweep last year with two wins at Fenway Park.

"I think that if we had started the series in St. Louis, maybe we would have lost in five," La Russa said jokingly.

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