11th and Washington

11th and Washington: July 2004

Friday, July 30, 2004

Baseball's cranky old man

We have a neighbor we call the Cranky Old Man. He's a thin, little man who shuffles around his driveway and front yard and is always giving advice to children playing too close to the street, or to Casey and me about parking our cars in our shared driveway or mixing recyclables with the regular trash. He's a stickler for the town laws, reminding us not to shovel snow into the road when the plow has already come by, yet he'll put his trash out before 6 p.m. the night before pickup and -- while this technically follows the law, it's still annoying -- fires up his lawn mower at the stroke of 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

In baseball, it's clear who's become the Cranky Old Man. Randy Johnson has been complaining about the losing in Arizona the way retirees in the surrounding Paradise Valley complain about the snow in Chicago before buying that second home in the desert. To his credit, he hasn't been tanking his starts to force a trade -- and don't believe he doesn't have it in him. Look at his stats in Seattle in 1998 before the trade to Houston, then look at his numbers as an Astro. It's not like he's holding the Diamondbacks hostage, but he's sure not making things pleasant around the clubhouse. This week's story in Sports Illustrated compares the team's locker room to a dentist's office, only more quiet. Johnson's agent reportedly told Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr. that if he didn't trade the Big Unit, he'd have one unhappy pitcher on his team. Garagiola responded along the lines of, "How is that different than what we have now?"

From a fan's perspective, it's frustrating to have a player like Johnson dictate which team he will or won't play for. He's certainly not the only one doing it this season -- Steve Finley apparently will only accept a trade to one of the teams near his Southern California home: San Diego, Anaheim or L.A. Carlos Delgado has told Toronto that he won't waive his no-trade clause, which likely would have landed him in L.A. Last year, Rafael Palmeiro didn't want to leave the heat and the losing in Texas to go to a contender (I forget which one now) and Juan Gonzalez -- perhaps the biggest (literally and figuratively) softie in the game today -- wouldn't let the Rangers trade him to Kansas City or the NL. So in the offseason he signed with the Royals. And he's currently hurt again.

The economics of the game and the owners' willingness to hand out no-trade clauses like bobblehead dolls before a game against the Expos has taken the fun and excitement out of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The speculation still provides some enjoyment, but with trade talks more limited, the sources used by the likes of Gammons, Stark, Verducci, et. al. have less to share, and even the speculation is diluted.

But when you have someone like Randy Johnson -- the sexiest of possible trade pieces -- wanting out, yet limiting it to a team guaranteed to "win," you're getting awfully close to the inmates running the asylum. (Granted, it seems whoever's calling the shots in the sport fits that description.) Randy doesn't want to be the piece that hopefully gets a team into the postseason, he wants to join a postseason-ready rotation. He wants to be a part of the gluttony. As much as it pains me to admit it, the Yankees have a need for Johnson. Were the team to acquire Bret Boone or Jeff Kent to play second, that would be gluttony -- all-stars at every position, a lineup better than many fantasy teams, a top-of-the-line replacement for a second baseman (Miguel Cairo) who has played -- and hit at -- the position more than adequately. But while Johnson would only make the rotation older, the Yankees have no healthy reliable starters. Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, both of whom can be counted on for quality starts every time out, are on the DL. Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras are far from reliable and Orlando Hernandez is coming off of injury and inactivity and tweaked his hamstring in his last start. Throw out what's happened in the regular season, and in a playoff series, the Red Sox have the edge in starting pitching in a matchup against the Yankees. And considering New York's bullpen overuse, Boston could have the edge there with a healthy Scott Williamson.

But Randy will only accept a trade to the Yankees. He won't go to Boston, he won't go to Anaheim (the team with the best prospects to offer Arizona), he won't go to Chicago. He apparently wouldn't even go to St. Louis, which now has a bigger lead in its division than the Yankees. But the Cardinals were dropped from the discussion early, probably because the team is getting along just fine with its current starters and didn't want to take on the $22 million Randy will make the rest of this season and next. I even heard Peter Gammons talking this morning about a potential three-way deal that would've landed Randy in Oakland, but the A's backed out of those discussions. But Johnson no doubt would've vetoed that change of address, even though the A's are the best second-half club in the game and just took over the division lead from Texas with yesterday's win.

True, it's tough to sit here and criticize a guy for not wanting to leave his home and his family. Arizona is Johnson's home, and the Diamondbacks' spring training site in Tucson keeps him close to home through March too. A trade to the east would put him in Florida in mid-February next year. There aren't many careers that allow employees to be bought and sold and traded like professional sports.

Yet, that's part of the job description. Athletes know that's part of the game -- the business -- when they sign their first multimillion dollar contract. But by their second, they seem to have forgotten it. Randy Johnson is set for life. He's set to make almost more between now and the end of next season than Ricky Williams earned in his weird, five-year career (cited at $27 million). He gets three and a half full months off every year -- just like teachers, even more than most, who make in a year what Johnson does in a start -- and when he retires, after next season or whenever, he'll have every waking moment of every day to spend with his wife and four kids.

Randy says it's all about "wanting to win." I see it as wanting to win on his terms.

It looks like he'll at least get to sleep in his own bed every night.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Pete Rose's anniversary

In my various meanderings through the internet, I've been known to sign up for a newsletter or two. I've got several e-mail accounts, and I learned years ago never to use my primary address for any orders, subscriptions or other sites requiring an e-mail address for membership or entry, much in the same way that I've never entered the digits to my debit card anywhere online.

So in one of those newsletters, a daily one that features a "This Date In History" section, an erroneous listing for today included:

July 27
Bugs Bunny makes his official debut in the Warner Bros. animated cartoon "A Wild Hare."
1942 Peggy Lee records her first hit record Why Don't You Do Right.
1984 Pete Rose passes Ty Cobb's record with his 4,192nd hit.

It's that last one I found interesting. I didn't seem to remember hearing much about it lately, so I was surprised that it would creep up so quickly. There was no sign of it on MLB.com, but then I got to thinking about how ol' Pete is banned from baseball and the Reds wouldn't be allowed to have him present for any 20th anniversary celebrations they might hold, so maybe Bud and baseball were just ignoring this feat.

Though I was only 8 in July 1984, I've taught myself so much about the history of baseball. The year 1984 didn't seem right to me. Sure enough, a few clicks later, I found the right date: Sept. 11, 1985. So we've still got nearly 14 months until the 20th anniversary of Pete's 4,192nd hit, but I've already started writing this essay in my head, so why wait until then. I'll just link back to it when the time comes.

Pete Rose's banishment from baseball is sad. It's sad he brought it upon himself, that's for sure, and sad that he fell victim to a disease that affects thousands of anonymous Americans, let alone the famous ones. However, he's had his opportunities to improve his standing in the eyes of Baseball -- the suits on Park Avenue and downtown Milwaukee -- and he's blown many of those. With another Hall of Fame weekend behind us, we're reminded of Pete Rose's ticking clock of eligibility. He retired as a player in 1986 and would have become eligible for the Hall in 1991. Players only have 15 years on the ballot, then they're turned over to the Veterans Committee, which now includes more players -- and Hall of Famers -- than it once did. So ol' Pete has less than two years to try to get on the writers' ballot and get the votes of those scribes and broadcasters who grew up watching him, who covered him, who will look more at his play on the field and less at his disrespect for the game off it.

Taking away his gambling indiscretions for a moment -- as hard as that is to do -- it will be a shame if, on Sept. 11, 2005, the Reds celebrate the 20th anniversary of the new Hit King without Pete Rose making an appearance at Great American Ballpark. He probably will, though. If Bud could relent enough to allow him on the field in Atlanta 1999 for the introduction of the All-Century Team, he'll probably jump at another chance to embrace baseball's history and another milestone moment and allow him onto the field in Cincinnati next September. It would be a shame if they didn't. It was certainly a great moment in Reds history, and I wouldn't want to see the anniversary pass as quietly as it seemed to today.

Scrolling through the lists of baseball's all-time leaders, the players at the top of each column are either in Cooperstown or have their ticket issued -- though guys like Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson still have their arrival dates left blank. But when those living legends meet again each July in Cooperstown, there's no photo ops with the Strikeout King and the Hit King, no pairings of the man with the most home runs and the man with the most hits.

The part of me that loves baseball's history wants Pete Rose to be there. As I near my 30s and the players inducted into the Hall of Fame each July become more and more familiar -- guys like Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor, who played recently enough to overlap my first experiments with fantasy baseball -- I can't imagine the likes of Chili Davis, Fred McGriff or Rafael Palmeiro embossed in brass on a plaque.

But Pete Rose I can see there. I don't know if he should be, though. He was a rat for gambling on baseball, but he had a chance to come clean about it and he chose to lie, and to hide. He exiled himself and now he's trying to apologize his way back into the party.

It's probably too late.

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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Final photos from the All-Star Game

There just wasn't enough room to get all my favorite photos from All-Star Weekend into a single entry, so here is a handful of remaining images that I felt worthy of posting.

In the eighth grade, one of our research paper assignments required that we write about a career. We could choose any one we liked, but I suppose the exercise was had the dual intention of getting us to start thinking about our futures as we headed into high school as well as helping us develop research and writing skills. I chose the career of Sports Photographer (capitalized, as if in the game of Life). Not long after that, a year or two, I got my first "real" camera, a Minolta Maxim something-or-other. It was a birthday gift, given to me a few weeks before the day one summer when my buddy Matt and our dads went to Boston to visit Boston College and take in a Red Sox game. Some of those first photos were of Nolan Ryan, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and other Rangers and Red Sox in the Fenway outfield during BP.

Somewhat fittingly, that camera broke at a ballpark as well. In the summer of 1999, my sports editor at the newspaper asked if I wanted to write a weekly baseball column. The idea was that I would travel to the six minor-league ballparks in New Jersey at the time, as well as the new Yankees' affiliate on Staten Island. I managed a coup when I convinced them to expense a trip to Fayetteville, N.C., to investigate the Cape Fear Crocs, a team that had been bought earlier that summer and would be moving to Lakewood, N.J., in two years. I found something of a ghost city, a town struggling to rebound from tough times and a less-than-high-school-quality field that was meant to host minor league baseball 70 nights a year. It was a sad state.

But the camera broke a couple of weeks before that trip, when I visited Newark to see the Bears in their new (and at the time, just about finished) stadium. Out beyond centerfield lay the New York skyline, the Twin Towers the signature buildings. I took a few shots and then heard a pop or a crack. It sounded like my plastic lens cover hitting the concrete concourse, so I looked at my feet, thinking I'd dropped it. Nothing, nowhere. It was in my pocket the whole time. But after that, my camera refused to work. The repairs would cost nearly as much as a new rig, so I upgraded.

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures for the last 10 years, plus. Here are the last shots of an eighth-grade research paper come to life.

And the rockets' red glare ... Posted by Hello

Jeet pleases the fans during NL batting practice. Posted by Hello

Danny Graves tosses an autographed ball back to an unseen (to him) fan. Posted by Hello

Roger Clemens didn't stop smiling all weekend ... well, until he threw his first pitch. Posted by Hello

I just love this one as a photograph in itself. Posted by Hello

When I switched to black and white film during Tuesday's pregame batting practice, I thought it was appropriate that the first photo I took was of one of the oldest players in the game, Barry Larkin. Surprisingly, VH1 didn't tie in its promotion of I Love the 90s with Larkin and the All-Star Game.

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It Still Counts: All-Star Gameday

All-Star Game Day, July 13, 2004, Houston

Really, it could have been Christmas morning. That's the kind of excitement Tuesday held. Laura played hooky from work and the three of us went to Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch. Joe Morgan was in the hotel lobby when she came in to get me, and she thought about getting a baseball for him to sign, then didn't.

We rode the shuttle to the ballpark together, getting there around 3:30. I went down to the field and sat on the Astros bench in the dugout to relax and be ready for batting practice at 4 o'clock. Stark and Kurkjian stood at the railing and talked. A few all-stars came out and mingled. Mark Loretta talked with someone about teammate Phil Nevin: "If he likes you, he'll do anything for you." That came after a statement that held the opposite meaning, if you know what I mean.

Being 5-foot-7, I'm dwarfed on the field when the players come out. Most people are taller than me, so even the sports writers look down to me. So unless I can get to the front of the crowd, I don't see much. So when, standing near the batting cage, I heard "Derek! Derek! Jeter!" coming from above the NL dugout behind me, I knew he was around. When I turned, two media members stepped aside and Derek Jeter came right at me. He obviously hadn't seen me on the other side of the tall people. "Excuse me," he said, then brushed past me and embraced Barry Larkin in a bear hug from behind.

Members of the shortstop brotherhood. Posted by Hello

Mike Piazza came out of the dugout and walked out to the outfield behind second base. He said hello to Albert Pujols, then asked to see his first baseman's mitt, trying it on.

I took some pictures of Jim Thome taking throws at first base, of Mike Lowell in the batting cage, of Bobby Abreu next to it.

After the NL batted, the players went out to centerfield for the team photo and I noticed Tommy Lasorda amid a sea of reporters. When the NL players came back in from the outfield, Piazza put his arm around Lasorda as the two talked.

The catcher and the godfather. Posted by Hello

Fox had its pregame desk set up in foul territory down the first base line, and Jeanie Zelasko had her long blond hair done up all wavy and wore a brilliant pink jacket. She just seems to get more bimboed up each week.

In another case of someone seemingly following me, I turned around to see Roger Clemens coming off the field. It was like a train wherever he went: always followed by a trail of reporters and/or security. At one point, the script "Astros" was headed straight for my head. ESPN's Chris Berman pulled him aside for a quick interview, and I headed down the steps into the dugout for a little bit.

Boomer and the Rocket. Posted by Hello

I snapped a shot of Tom Glavine giving an interview and was heading up the steps when I heard the telltale cries from the fans above the dugout: "Mike! Mike!" Piazza was coming. I looked ahead of me, saw him coming toward the steps I was ascending, and backed down quickly, hoping to get a picture as he walked into the dugout. He was walking too fast, however, and I barely stepped to the side on the steps as he reached them. Looking up to the fans, he said, "Not now. I've got to go inside." He gestured beneath the stands as he spoke, pointing downward, and nearly conked me in the head with his elbow as he did so.

Glavine 47. Posted by Hello

This 75th All-Star Game is the second in the two-year experiment to give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the midsummer exhibition game. Because baseball screwed up the concept so badly, coming to a climax with the 2002 tie in Milwaukee, they had to do something. I don't think using the All-Star Game is the answer, but it is at least nice to see it treated like a meaningful game again. There's no chance of it ever becoming meaningful again for the sake of league pride, so I guess this is the next best thing. What they should really do is have a monetary bonus for the winning players, a prize you only get if you actually play in the game. That would motivate them. It might cause some problems with players who aren't used, but something could be worked out for them. If they were healthy and able to play, but didn't, then they'd get a smaller, token bonus, but a guy like Schilling or Sean Casey, who were there and took part in just about everything else, wouldn't because they couldn't contribute. But the MLB slogan "This One Counts" seems a little ridiculous to me. It counts, but it doesn't. The stats don't count, the game result doesn't count. Only the winner matters. And yet, as if to remind the players that they truly are playing for something, the bases not only carried the All-Star Game logo on top, but the "This One Counts" slogan on the four sides. Any player diving into a base on a pickoff attempt or an extra-base hit will see those words coming closer. I think it was Scott Rolen who was quoted in an article I read that said the All-Star Game wasn't the right way to decide who gets homefield advantage. It shouldn't be decided by 32 guys on either side, he said, suggesting interleague play be the determining factor. Let all 700 players decide it was his point.

Exhausted, I left the field and joined Laura and David in the stands to talk with them some more before leaving for the mezzanine. I staked out a spot in the front row, directly above the Astros bullpen mound, planning to take pictures of Clemens as he warmed up. It put me in the perfect spot to see Roger start his warmups by long-tossing with his bullpen catcher in the outfield. When Piazza wandered out from the dugout, Roger kept throwing with the bullpen catcher, so Mike put his mask and glove down and did some stretches. When he moved to the bullpen, Clemens brought his bullpen guy with him. Then Piazza went in and took two or three pitches before hopping on a bullpen cart for a quick trip back to the dugout for the player introductions. Ivan Rodriguez, meanwhile, remained in the AL bullpen throughout introductions warming up Mark Mulder. In listening to New York talk radio and some viewpoints from Houston and elsewhere since last Tuesday, Mike Piazza has come out of this whole "feud" with Clemens as the good guy. It was Clemens who hit him, Clemens who threw the bat, Clemens who used his own catcher to warm up for the All-Star Game. It was even Clemens who, in the midst of his worst first inning ever, who shook off Piazza's pitch to throw a slider that Manny Ramirez sent into the left-field seats. I've since heard that the reason Piazza's so pissed at Clemens is that somewhere during the past few years Clemens has made an insensitive and derogatory comment about Piazza and, well, his sexual preference.

The Rocket warms up. Posted by Hello

When it comes to Clemens, I don't blame him for signing with the Astros and I think the Yankee fans who whine and cry over his "betrayal" of the Yankees are whining for whining's sake. How many players have the Yankees taken from their original teams, players the fans now despise for simply jumping at the money the Yankees can offer? Nowhere does it say that every potential Hall of Famer since 1990 has to play for the Yankees and retire a Yankee, but to hear some of the callers to New York talk radio, you'd think it was one of baseball's new rules or trends, like the bereavement list or alternate jerseys. That being said, I'm not a big fan of Clemens. I'm in awe at what he's done as a pitcher, but I don't admire him the way I did Nolan Ryan. It was amusing to see Clemens get shelled by the AL in his home park, and I've always felt there was a difference in Clemens and a pitcher who throws inside. There's throwing inside and there's throwing at a batter's head. A case can be made for the likes of Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson, notoriously aggressive headhunters, but at least those guys had to pay for it themselves by taking their turn at bat. Until this year, and with the exception of that one interleague game at Shea Stadium a couple of seasons ago, Clemens never had to pick up a bat and stand in the batter's box.

I watched the game and kept score, not an easy task on a standard scoresheet (I used the one in the media guide) for an All-Star Game with so many changes. I still haven't gone through it to make sure it's accurate. My seat in the front row of the section nearly proved to be the perfect spot. When David Ortiz sent a rocket to right-center, I took a quick look and declared, "That's coming up here." It hit the front of the temporary table about 15 feet to my left, bounced back toward the field, then ricocheted off the railing and three rows up into the hands of another journalist. Within minutes, he'd taken several calls from friends and family who saw him on TV and then he went hunting for a clubhouse pass to borrow from another reporter (not all of us, myself included, had the Texas-shaped badge necessary for clubhouse access). "It's his first all-star homer," he said. "It's right for me to keep it."

After the sixth inning, my prediction came true when the roof began rolling back. I didn't notice it at first, instead watching the stadium's "Kiss-Cam" on the monitors in the press area. But when the Fox feed came back on, it was a wide shot of the field showing the growing opening. "Drayton loves the roof," Laura told me earlier after we'd talked about the home run derby. "He's got a button for it in his office." I figured that if he was going to open it for the derby, he'd surely want to show it off during the game itself. Again, before the roof was 1/3 open, I felt the warmth from outside already, but also the breeze. If there was a breeze, it was bearable. Without the air circulating, it was stuffy. After the seventh inning, Laura called me to say that the people in the seats next to theirs had left, so I joined them for the last inning and a half, passing through the pleasantly air conditioned club level one last time.

When the game ended, we had no need to stick around for any post-game ceremonies, so we were among the first ones on the first shuttle. Our driver, a rotund black woman, enjoyed getting us to the hotel as quickly -- yet safely, she assured us -- as possible. She floored it through yellow lights at intersections and took any opportunity to change lanes when other drivers left the smallest opening. After one adept maneuver, she laughed heartily. "I think she's cackling," I said to Laura. My thought was confirmed when we made another yellow light, and some passengers closer to the front commented as well. "Don't worry, honey," the driver said, "I'll get you there safe."

Laura, David and I had a drink in the bar area and ordered a plate of nachos before, just after midnight, they left. As I headed up stairs with my beer, I saw Karl Ravesh with one of his own, just back from the ballpark. On the television, Chris Berman anchored the post-game edition of Baseball Tonight.

In the morning, I saw Harold Reynolds at the ATM and Berman at the front desk, then again out in the driveway asking the bellhop for a car to the airport. Berman left in a private car while I waited for the cheaper shuttle. I should've taken a cab myself, expensing it on the magazine, instead of waiting for the van, which then stopped at the Hilton and was packed, nine men and a woman sitting three to a bench seat for the half-hour drive north.

Waiting at gate E7, I saw Tom Gordon's family come through and sit down in the waiting area, one of his sons holding the large dry-mounted placard with Tom's name, left over from the media day, I guessed. Until I was told I was sitting in the wrong seat, it appeared that I would be flying home next to one of the Gordon boys, but instead I had the bulkhead on the aisle, two rows in front of Reynolds and his wife.

Back in Newark, I chatted with Reynolds at baggage claim after I noticed his wife carrying my magazine, then went outside to see two undercover cops putting hand cuffs on a man posing as a taxi driver. It's one of the current concerns at airports: people who pose as drivers and offer to take passengers from the airport to their hotel for a fee around the same or cheaper than what a legitimate cab would cost. But when they get to your destination, they charge you much more than they quoted you and won't give you your luggage from the trunk until you pay up.

So from Kenny Mayne as I entered the hotel to a conversation with Harold Reynolds and a sting operation in progress, it was nonstop excitement for five days. Next year, Detroit, if I can handle the heat in an open ballpark.

I think I'll manage.

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Hit It Here: All-Star Monday

All-Star Monday, July 12, 2004, Houston

They called it "Workout Day" on the schedule, the day when the players take batting practice at the ballpark and their children run around in miniature replicas of their fathers' jerseys. If I'd been so inclined, I could have taken the shuttle over to the Four Seasons for the managers' press conference where the announced the lineups, and then I could've stayed for the player availability in the ballroom. I could've walked up to any all-star sitting beneath his name and asked him questions -- provided I could get through the crowds of reporters who undoubtedly surrounded the bigger names like Bonds and Clemens.

But I didn't. What did I need quotes from the players for? I was there for the celebrity softball game, and I woke up Sunday morning, transcribed my interview tape and notes and e-mailed the file off to the magazine. After calling to check that it was in, I was free, off the hook unless they called with a question. No one did. This was my time.

I got myself some lunch and watched ESPN, read a little of The Teammates and boarded the bus, getting off at the Hilton and walking across the skybridge to the convention center to check out the FanFest. Like Bill Simmons, I could've spent a day there. I could've spent thousands, yet I managed to restrain myself. The minor-league cap section was alluring enough on its own, but I browsed through the retro jerseys and the all-star ones with the players' names and numbers. I managed to resist them all, and kept the chili dogs off my back too.

Although the convention center is probably half a mile long, I was forced to exit near the middle, rather than at the end which was much closer to the ballpark. The five-minute walk was probably my longest stretch in the midday heat, which reached 100 degrees on Monday. I was back inside the comfortable juicy coolness of Minute Maid Park at 3:30. My plan was to grab a snack and then hit the field for batting practice, but as I passed through the main press box to head upstairs, I glanced at the daily game notes and noticed a 4 p.m. press conference with Bud Selig and the 14 living members of the 500 home run club. It was in the room just behind the auxiliary press box in the mezzanine, so it wasn't far for me at all.

I took a seat in the next-to-last row on the right side, which had a view of the podium and the seats where the players would sit that was from the side. I didn't want to take a good seat from someone who needed to be there. Soon, I notice Willie Mays walks in behind me to the stairway off to the right from where all the players will emerge. Then comes Eddie Murray and Hank Aaron, who stops to talk with a woman sitting behind me. Reggie Jackson walks through, then Harmon Killebrew and Mike Schmidt before Willie McCovey is wheeled through. He has trouble walking these days. Ernie Banks heads the other way to see someone or get something.

Then the players come up from the clubhouses: Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds. Only Bonds comes alone; the others have at least some of their sons in tow, dressed in either dad's team uniform or his all-star jersey. Palmeiro seems small compared to the other three, who also seem to be much bigger than the retired members of the club. We'll attribute that to better nutrition and conditioning for today's players, won't we?

More than 7,500 home runs in those chairs. Posted by Hello

After ESPN's Karl Ravech and Commissioner Bud said some words at the podium, the players went to their assigned seats for interviews. I sat in for a bit on Mike Schmidt's session, figuring I'd throw out a question to him, but then decided I'd rather have pictures of this group than sound bites. So then I worked the room, squeezing between the crowds at the legends' tables for headshots.

I couldn't get anywhere near Barry Bonds' area, but I knew I'd have a chance to shoot him on the field. I spotted Phillies president Dave Montgomery, whom I've met before in Lakewood, and reintroduced myself because he's a nice, approachable team owner. I wouldn't have done the same with a George Steinbrenner type.

When the active players left for BP, I got the last of the legends and made my way back down to the field. There it was a madhouse. Reporters and cameramen everywhere. Peter Gammons and Kenny Mayne. Paul White from USA Today's Sports Weekly, Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian from ESPN. I shot like a photographer who had to sell dozens of photos in order to pay the rent this month.

Jim Thome makes sure he's heard. Posted by Hello

Sammy's always smiling. Posted by Hello

Jeff Kent's sons enjoyed the workout day. Posted by Hello

Thome and Todd Helton watch a big fly. Posted by Hello

Piazza goes deep. Posted by Hello

Soon, the American League players emerged.

New York, New York. Posted by Hello

Curt Schilling and his four kids settled in along the third-base line. Randy Johnson's son is on the left.

The Schilling clan. Posted by Hello

So the Big Unit ambled over to chat with his former teammate and World Series co-MVP.

Even kneeling, he's tall. Posted by Hello

Mariano Rivera gave an interview seated among his All-Star teammates and his own kids in foul territory behind third base.

Mariano Rivera speaks in Spanish. Posted by Hello

It's nice to see the players with their children. You see a more human side to them than just the multi-millionaires who can play a game better than any of us can. These guys started out much like we did, playing in youth leagues in town and then in high school. Only they were gifted enough to be able to do it in college, in the minors, and now in the majors. They're the best in the world, yet I'm sure there's not one of them who wouldn't give it up to be a father. At least I'm sure that's what they'd say. But to see the little Riveras and Gordons walking around, you think of these guys as fathers and you don't hate the Yankees as much. At least not today.

I've been on fields before for batting practice. I've stood beside the cage when Piazza, Jeter and Nomar have taken their cuts. I've seen a home run from the vantage point of the hitter. To see that on a major-league level is something I'll never forget, and it never gets old. To stand near enough to feel the breeze from a Barry Bonds swing is sensational. At times it seems like virtual reality. As I was standing on the first-base side of the field, right near the line across which we reporters were not to step, I turned around at one point to see George Brett standing next to me. Todd Helton came up to say hello, then looked back to someone I took to be his brother. "Did you see who that was?" Todd asked him. "George Brett!"

It's a different game when you're this close. Posted by Hello

When I spotted Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca, I asked about his nephew Daniel, who was with Lakewood when I covered the team. Dan's now in the Diamondbacks system with a second child and I told Carlos to say hello for me. As I left, he introduced me to his son, who looked as excited as I was to be there. Walking back over to the NL side, Mark Loretta stopped at the top of the dugout steps to sign some autographs, indicating to the fans in the stands that they could toss their baseballs to him. Two people went at the same time, but not even an all-star infielder can handle both of those throws. He grabbed the higher one, near his chest, but the other was too low and bounced through his legs and back to me. I tossed it back to Loretta, who appreciated not having to run after some fan's errant toss.

I took pictures of Ichiro, of Kent's kids, one of whom posed and smiled for me. I spotted Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi talking on the other side of the cage and got a picture of them through the netting that just begs for a joke caption that includes the acronym BALCO, or at least alludes to it. "Hey, Barry, your head's looking smaller!" "Thanks, Jason! How's that 'parasite' treating you!"

Insert BALCO joke here. Posted by Hello

The media was only allowed an hour on the field for BP on Monday, so I trudged back up to the mezzanine seating for the lesser press to watch the home-run derby batting practice. David Ortiz of the Red Sox hit the rafters of the roof a couple of times, then nailed it again during the derby and lobbied -- unsuccessfully -- for a home run, but it wasn't, according to the ground rules. I watched the derby from just above the ESPN porch set that overlooked the outfield. Below me, I noticed Bill Simmons in his Manny Ramirez t-shirt watching from John Kruk's seat on the set.

Opening the roof. Posted by Hello

They introduced the 500 home run club to the theme from The Natural, a composition that never gets old when used for the best in baseball. Barry Bonds was the first to hit in the derby, and before the first pitch, the catcher stood up and called for a ball outside, as if to issue an intentional walk. I so called that. I thought about that on the flight down, and at that moment I regretted not mentioning it to Laura or someone, anyone who could corroborate my claim that such a move would be hilarious.

Moments after Tejada's winning blast. Posted by Hello

The derby was a spectacular show, and after the first round, Milo Hamilton, who played M.C. down on the field, said, "You thought the first round was something, let's see how the balls fly out of here when we take the roof off this place!" I looked up and noticed that, indeed, the roof was rolling back, so quietly and effortlessly. The windows to my right out in faraway dead-center field were sliding back and the deep, deep blue night sky was coming through. When Miguel Tejada won it with his final blast that set off fireworks out in left field, I immediately turned to the door and headed for the shuttle bus back to the hotel. I wanted to drop off my camera bag before the gala at the aquarium.

At the gala, I became skeptical that the likes of Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez would really show up because it wasn't like the other, smaller parties I'd been to so far. This one was open to more people, and lots of fans and kids strolled through the backlit displays of marine life and up the stairs to the second- and third-floor balconies and bars. The whole thing was catered, with food at several locations, alcohol at more, and tables out on the balconies and inside what was either a ballroom or conference room. Out at a table on the second-floor balcony, I spotted George F. Will and realized he was talking to actor Robert Wuhl. Across the table sat Bud Selig. What a group. It is only later, as I stood at the wall of the third-floor balcony and looked down over the main entrance to the building, that I realized that maybe the biggest stars would show up: there, dressed in black and talking on his cell phone, was Roger Clemens, his wife and two cops by his side. They waited for the train to pass -- a tiny, amusement park train that carries visitors around the aquarium -- and then walked inside. I ran into him later as I walked back down to the second floor just as he was leaving, saying, "See you guys tomorrow." Matthew Modine continued to stalk me, and I later saw another familiar face eating at one of the standing tables in the main buffet room. I stole a glance as I passed, but he caught my eye and returned my inquisitive look with a trademark glare. "Yep," I thought to myself, "That's Will Clark."

The aquarium has an actual bar down on the first floor, and again I spotted the Sports Guy as well as ESPN's Dave Campbell. As midnight passed, the bar TV on ESPN, Baseball Tonight began its live broadcast from outside. Later I found where they were, but I've stood beside ESPN broadcasts before, so I turned around and made one last pass along the grounds. The crowd surrounding a tall blond athlete led me to Curt Schilling, and when I returned to the main entrance, he followed. Then I saw, sitting at a table, Joe Morgan holding court with a couple of friends. Simmons was there again too, and he took note of Schilling, mentioning it in his column.

Unlike the night before, I didn't have to go back to bed. I wasn't as tired or exhausted. I got on the elevator with Peter Gammons, who looked ready to curl up and fall asleep right on the carpeted floor of the elevator. I stayed up a little longer and had a snack, watching the ESPN highlights of the home run derby. Then I got a good night's sleep. Tomorrow was All-Star day.

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Baseball Future: Minor leaguers and arrogant sports writers

All-Star Sunday, July 11, 2004, Houston

I went to the ballpark before 1 p.m. to get my press pass and check out the stadium a bit before the Futures Game. For some reason, I wasn't surprised when they couldn't find my credentials at will call, but they were prepared and I was sent over to the trailer to have my picture taken and get my pass printed right there. Unfortunately, instead of my smiling, happy photo that I'd e-mailed the week before, I had a sour, hungover face. It was just too much effort for me to smile for a picture at that moment. At least it's not a driver's license photo I'm stuck with for years. I kind of laugh at it now.

I used the trip to Houston to get back to my sportswriting roots, interviewing Orioles farmhand Val Majewski and Phillies prospect Gavin Floyd before the Futures Game to send back home to the newspaper for a little freelance fee. Just some extra walking around money. As I stood waiting to talk to Gavin, he was chatting on the dugout bench with another reporter. At one point, the reporter had stood up, so I thought their interview was over and I took a few steps closer to make sure I caught Gavin before he went into the clubhouse. But then they sat down again, and shortly after that, a certain ESPN.com writer came up and said hello to the two of them. After chatting with the other reporter, the ESPN guy -- whose stuff I read regularly and certainly enjoy -- then said, "You've got a hoverer over here," meaning me. Ass.

Unfortunately, the laptop I'd brought from work didn't have a wireless card for internet access (Minute Maid Park is wi-fi enabled), so it was essentially useless. I thought it might be dead weight, a complete waste of energy bringing it with me, but after I returned to the hotel and banged out a Futures Game story and e-mailed it back to NJ, I noticed that the business center at the hotel had two desktop areas with internet connections that allowed guests to plug in their own laptops. So the computer came in handy the next day.

Back at the ballpark -- the hotel-to-ballpark shuttle service was the perfect way to get around -- I trekked up to the "auxiliary press box" out in the mezzanine sections in deep right-center field. And I was finally hungry, so I had a sandwich and some popcorn from the spread and settled in to watch the Futures Game from afar. The US team held on for a 4-3 win after Gavin came in to face a bases-loaded, no-out situation with a 4-0 lead in the top of the seventh (the final inning). A 12-hop single through the hole between first and second made it 4-1 an RBI groundout cut it to 4-2 and a wild pitch on the first offering to Justin Morneau made it 4-3 before Gavin struck out the Twins' super-prospect. US manager Goose Gossage then went to the bullpen for Tigers pitcher Kyle Sleeth, who got a grounder to short to end it.

I then had to hustle down to the field for the celebrity game because that was the main reason I was in town. I'd lost track of time and didn't get down to the batting cages beneath the stands where the players were warming up, but I followed them out onto the field and caught up with the likes of Nick Lachey, Bill Rancic and Charlie Maher before the game. They wore the hats of their hometown teams -- Lachey, from Cincinnati, had a Reds cap; Chicagoan Rancic was a Cubbie and Maher wore the Yankees' "NY." Adam Rodriguez from CSI: Miami got it right with a Mets cap. I found myself in the middle of reporters and former ballplayers clamoring for photo ops or interviews with the likes of Lachey (Cecil Fielder wanted a picture with Mr. Simpson and his daughter) and Shandi. It was a bit of a madhouse down there, very hectic, but I got what I needed.

On the field for the celebrity game was where I first saw ESPN.com's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. For the next two days, his whereabouts mimicked mine. I saw him frequently from that point until he returned to the media hotel from the gala in a taxi that pulled up just before mine did. If I'd had the chance, I would've told him that I didn't expect to see him back in Houston so soon, but he addressed that in his all-star column.

I used the softball game time as a chance to explore the stadium, and I watched parts from the lower seats and the second-level, air-conditioned, carpeted club section. When the softball game ended, I returned to the hotel, dropped my stuff off in my room, and went downstairs to the Stuff XPO, which promised celebrities and all-stars alike. There I saw more ESPN guys -- Dan Patrick, Rob Dibble, Mayne and Reynolds again -- and former ballplayers like Daryl Hamilton and Dave Stewart. There was a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a BMW near the entrance, video games set up in the back, and MP3 player and portable movie players on display elsewhere. It was like an adult arcade with an open bar. I could've had my golf swing recorded and analyzed, then put on a CD to take with me. I could've taken some pictures to become a photographer on a Stuff photo shoot. To do that, I would've been shooting the women at the party who were posing to become a Stuff model. There was even a speed pitch there. Crazy.

But, like a true celebrity party, there was nowhere -- literally, nowhere -- to sit, unless you had the white wristband for the small VIP area in the back where the ESPN guys hung out. My feet became painfully sore and around midnight I couldn't take it anymore. I gave up, resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be making friends with any celebrities, and headed for the door. "We're not letting anyone back in, just so you know," someone told me on my way out. "Too crowded in there?" I asked him. "Yeah." I hesitated. What if Mike Piazza showed up? What if Jimmy Kimmel made an appearance. If they did, I'd probably miss them anyway, I figured. I walked down the stairs to the lobby to get to the elevator. To my surprise, a crowd of people surrounded the red-carpet area at the bottom of the escalator, hoping to get a glimpse of someone they knew from the TV. "You're not giving up your pass, are you?" someone asked me with a voice filled with hope. "Sorry," I mumbled and headed for the elevator and my comfortable, king-size bed.

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Arriving in Houston: All-Star Saturday

All-Star Saturday, July 10, 2004, Houston

For my first All-Star Game, I don't think it could have gone much better than it did in Houston. From the outset, I was worried about the heat. I don't do well in the heat and I've been to Houston in July before. It's not pretty. But out of nearly four days there, I spent maybe a total of 30 minutes outside between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and that was just walking from one air-conditioned building to another. The Saturday night beers with Laura and David at the icehouse were during the cooling evening hours and Monday night's All-Star Gala was at the Downtown Aquarium, both inside and out, after 10 p.m. So I managed it well.

Thank goodness, though, that Minute Maid Park has a roof. Sunday's Futures Game and Celebrity Softball Game would've been unbearable in the summer sun. The lack of a roof at Detroit's Comerica Park has me less excited about the possibility of attending next year's All-Star festivities in the Motor City. But, if the opportunity presents itself again, I think I'll manage. Seriously, having this gig year in and year out is almost enough to keep me at this magazine indefinitely. Almost. We'll see what comes along in the next year.

Laura and David were a big part of the enjoyment. We went to college together -- Laura in my class, her husband David a few years behind us -- and so getting together again is seamless. They picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Hyatt Regency through a driving rainstorm. When they dropped me off to check in and regroup before we all went to dinner together, Laura's last words to me were, "Let me know if you see anyone famous!" I was staying at the media hotel, which meant the chances were decent of spotting at least the sports celebrities of ESPN.

Immediately upon entering the hotel, I spotted a tall, lanky figure walking toward me. Kenny Mayne. As my eyes adjusted to the light inside and I recognized him, my first thought was, "Oh! Someone I know! I should head over and say hello." But another part of my brain realized what was happening and said, "Hang on a second there, buddy. You know this guy from TV. He doesn't know you from a stalker." So in the end, I apparently ended up staring at him as if in awe, and Kenny caught on. "Hey," he said as we passed. "Hey there," I replied, continuing on to the front desk. I turned around and saw another man approach him and say, "Are you Kenny Mayne."

Laura, David and I went to dinner at a Tex-Mex dive in the suburbs, then on to the icehouse -- a bar with garage doors in the wall to make it an open-air patio bar in nicer weather, an enclosed and packed pub in less-than-ideal conditions. Houston boasts that it is 600 square miles, but as Laura pointed out, the city has something like six separate downtown areas. With all that open space in Texas, the city just sprawled. You can drive 10 or 15 minutes from downtown -- and from here on out, "downtown" refers to the section of the city where I stayed, less than a mile from Minute Maid Park -- and the condos and apartments and houses are telling you you're in the suburbs, but the zip codes will tell you you're still in Houston. It's like if Boston claimed Concord as part of the city, or Seattle annexed Redmond.

After the icehouse, they dropped me off at the Hilton Americas, where the celebrities for the softball game were staying as well as much of the employees of Major League Baseball, I assumed. Across the street was the Four Seasons, where the players would stay beginning Sunday night, and joined to the Hilton on the other side by a skybridge over the road was the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the All-Star FanFest was held. And down the street sat Minute Maid Park.

Inside one of the Hilton restaurants was the first party of the weekend. I walked in early and roamed the empty establishment and secured myself a seat at the bar. It's hard doing these events by yourself when everyone else has someone to talk to. I'm not good at starting up a conversation with a complete stranger, so I settled in at an end of the bar near the piano player and a photo booth that was set up for people to have their picture taken against a backdrop that made it look like they were snatching a home run from an outfielder. They really should have had Tony Tarasco of the Orioles as the outfielder, allowing all the people having their picture taken to play the role of Jeffrey Maier, the Yankee fan who gave Derek Jeter a home run in the playoffs a few years back.

I sat at the bar and drank Budweisers until Laura and David joined me from the work function they had to attend. By then I was well on my way to inebriation, and I pointed out the famous faces I'd seen already: former Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn, actor Matthew Modine and former Mariner second baseman and current ESPN analyst Harold Reynolds. Shortly after Laura and David arrived, Miss USA Shandi Fennesey strutted in, and Laura insisted on having her husband and friend pose for a picture with her. We were finally convinced. (There are a lot of photos for me to go through -- eight rolls taken on my SLR and 40-something on the digital point-and-shoot -- so I hope to get those up on the site soon.) Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman made an appearance just after midnight, after the party had been extended to 1 a.m., but they quickly went to the back where it was less crowded and we held firmly to our seats at the bar.

When they drove me back to my hotel, I asked if they wanted to come in for a drink at the bar, so we grabbed ourselves a spot at the bar literally in the lobby: It's right in the center, recessed down a few steps. There was not a waking moment in my 10th floor room when, if I went to the bathroom near the door or walked into or out of my room, that I did not hear the murmur from people in the lobby. It was always hopping.

The pint at the Hyatt bar was my 10th or 11th beer of the night, I figured out the next morning. It had me quite hung over and I found myself unable to eat until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Baseball Summit I

I'm not doing a good job with the idea of posting timely updates here, that's for sure. It's Thursday, five days after a doubleheader I undertook involving four teams in three leagues in two ballparks in two boroughs in the same day. It's four days after a third game in two days in a third park in another state.

When Mets tickets went on sale online in February, I logged on to get mine for Opening Day, as usual, but those were the second set of tickets I sought. The first were for July 3: Mets-Yankees, Shea Stadium, Fox television. I invited Matt and Brad up from D.C. and offered the fourth ticket to Dave, who's been going to Opening Day games with me for five years. We arrived before noon and wandered around the field level seats during Mets batting practice, which went longer -- or at least later -- than usual because the Yankees either elected to skip it or took it at their own stadium. They didn't need it, that's for sure.

At some point Friday night or Saturday morning, I made a prediction to Brad that we were in for a slugfest, a 10-8 final. The starters were Matt Ginter and Jose Contreras, so it wasn't a stretch to think that the bullpens would be a factor in this one. I'm one to think that Contreras' Yankee Stadium start against the Mets was more an aberration than an indicator of things to come.

It was a fabulous game, and I can say that because the Mets eeked out a 10-9 win in the ninth on a bases-loaded dribbler by Shane Spencer. But with five home runs (two by Tony Clark, one each by Cliff Floyd, Ty Wiggington and Richard Hidalgo) and three lead changes, the cheers went back and forth. I love the Subway Series games because you hear 100 percent fan participation on those late-inning full-count pitches with runners in scoring position. Bases loaded, two out, top of the ninth, 3-2 count on Jorge Posada, and the Yankee fans are cheering for a hit or a walk, the Mets fans for a strikeout.

When John Franco throws a second straight change up down and in at the knees, right where the previous pitch was called a strike, and Posada takes it for called strike three, it's the Mets fans who become louder.

I'm now 2-1 in Mets wins against the Yankees, all at Shea. If you count the April 1989 exhibition game I saw, it's 2-2, but I won't count that until I can find a box score for it. As it stands now, it was my 90th major league game and Clark's two home runs moved him past Piazza into the lead in games I've attended. He's got five now, the other three coming during the three-game Tigers-Red Sox series I attended at the old Tiger Stadium in 1999.

There was no way we were leaving Shea early, and we managed to get to the subway quickly enough that the platform wasn't packed and neither was our car. Six stops later, we transfered to the F and settled in for what would be a nearly 75-minute sojourn through Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn to the end of the line at Coney Island, arriving at 7 p.m. for what we thought was a 5 p.m. Brooklyn Cyclones game. When I handed Brad the ticket, he noticed that I was wrong and the game started at 6, so we made it in the bottom of the third.

KeySpan Park is in a wonderful setting, just west of the heart of Coney Island. The cool breezes come off the ocean, and the ballpark -- particularly the outfield bleachers, where we sat -- smell sweetly of salt air and sand. Behind the metal stands in right-center sits the tower for the old parachute ride and the beach. The lights atop their towers are encircled with neon, mimicking the artificial daylight along the boardwalk just steps away.

Intent on grabbing grub at the Old Town Bar in Union Square, we ducked out in the 10th inning after Brooklyn plated two runs in the ninth to tie the game and grabbed hot dogs and fries at Nathan's, because we had to. It's famous.

On Sunday, after Brad boarded Independence Air to head back to Washington, Matt and I headed down to Little Silver for a Fourth of July barbecue at my uncle's. We stepped inside now and then to catch the Mets score, and I watched as Ty Wiggington fielded Alex Rodriguez' weak grounder to complete the sweep. THE SWEEP! As a co-worker -- and Yankee fan -- told me yesterday, the Bombers' backers won't admit it (they'll brush it off), but it was a demoralizing sweep. To the Mets.

From the barbecue, we went to Lakewood along with Casey, Kerry and my sister and watched Lexington's Beau Hearod hit two monster home runs to left field as the Legends rolled to an 8-1 victory over the BlueClaws on Fireworks Night.

Last week, when I learned I had Monday off, I considered extending the trip a day and a ballpark, driving to Philadelphia for the Mets-Phillies game on Monday night. But then that would've included a two-hour drive (with no traffic) up the New Jersey Turnpike at the end of a holiday weekend, and I was already tired from two afternoons in the sun and lots of traveling around New York City and New Jersey. So we saved Philadelphia, perhaps for later this summer.

Perhaps for the pennant race.

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