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Young or old, ASG nod for first-timers a thrill

Young or old, ASG nod for first-timers a thrill

Jason Heyward was in kindergarten the last time the National League walked off an All-Star Game field as a winner over the American League.

A week from Tuesday, the mercurial Atlanta rookie could be in the Angel Stadium outfield to help the NL once again try to halt a midsummer winless streak that has reached 14 All-Star Games.

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Heyward, whose participation is tentative due to a bruised left thumb that landed him on the disabled list Monday, was revealed on Sunday as the only rookie to earn fans' votes as a starter in the 81st Midsummer Classic.

Still hopeful of recovering in time to take the field, Heyward merely headlines a bountiful class of 27 first-time All-Stars who will be starting new chapters in their album of memories.

Stephen Strasburg is not one of them. The Washington Nationals' scintillating rookie pitcher sparked debates about whether he merited a spot, but Mr. Precedent could not set this one: Making an All-Star team with only six big league starts on his resume.

Heyward was a 6-year-old when the NL blanked the AL, 6-0, in 1996 in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

"It's cool. It's awesome. My first time being part of it and I'm just taking it all in. I'm going to soak it in for a little bit, because it's not going to last forever," said Heyward, who had the cast removed from the injured thumb on Sunday. "If all goes well with the thumb, I'm free to play. It's all on me and all depends on how I respond to treatment."

The 66 All-Stars revealed on Sunday included 27 first-time selections divided nearly equally between the NL (15) and the AL.

The midsummer rookie crowd could further grow when the results of the ongoing 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Sprint are announced after online ballots close at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Both leagues' candidates include two All-Star neophytes: Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez and Cincinnati's Joey Votto in the NL and the Yankees' Nick Swisher and the Twins' Delmon Young in the AL.

The voices of fans, players and the All-Star managers -- Charlie Manuel of the NL and Joe Girardi of the AL -- echoed the recent trend of welcoming baseball's new guard while also honoring its mainstays. Last year's All-Star Game in St. Louis featured 30 first-timers by the time the teams took the field, including replacements for injured selections.

This year's All-Star rookies include both leagues' preeminent pitchers of the first half: Ubaldo Jimenez, the Colorado right-hander with the 14-1 record even the day after his first rough outing of the season in a no-decision start against the Giants, and Tampa Bay's David Price, who leads the AL with his 11 wins and a 2.42 ERA.

Both immediately became top candidates to start for their respective loops.

"It would be awesome," Price said. "Only two people get to start this game each year, so that would be a great honor. I was very grateful [to hear about the selection]. It's not just me. I'm representing the Rays, I couldn't have done it without these guys."

Other notable first-timers are Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, the Major League leader with 21 home runs, and NL batting leader Martin Prado of the Braves. Prado, who built his .336 average on 115 hits, which lead all Major Leaguers, may crack the starting lineup the same way teammate Heyward got knocked out of it, via a thumb injury.

Elected second-base starter Chase Utley of the Phillies recently underwent surgery on his own right thumb and in line as his replacement is Prado, the 26-year-old who was next on the Players' Ballot.

"They call your name and all the pregame stuff," said Prado, inferring that just being introduced with the other All-Stars would be thrilling enough. "To start a game would be awesome for me."

The old-timer of the first-timers is 40-year-old Cincinnati reliever Arthur Rhodes. By landing his first All-Star berth in his 19th season, the left-hander is this year's Tim Wakefield, who a year ago made his first All-Star pitching staff at 42.

"I've put a lot of work into this game, busted my tail and just worked hard," an emotional Rhodes said on Sunday. "It's been an exciting year for me in the first half. To make the All-Star team, I'm excited right now. I'll go out there, enjoy myself and have fun."

Rhodes' flip side on the NL staff is Pittsburgh reliever Evan Meek, who has appeared in 730 fewer games. The 27-year-old righty is the Pirates' lone representative, but this is hardly an obligatory selection: Meek tops all big league relievers with his miniscule 0.98 ERA, earning respect around the league long before Sunday's validation.

"It will be awesome to represent Pittsburgh and just be a part of the game," Meek said. "It's a real honor. It's amazing to be selected. It's an overwhelming feeling."

"This guy has gotten accolades from around the league," said his manager, John Russell. "The players know him, managers know him ... he's not fun to hit off. What he's done the first half of the year ... what he's done to opposing teams, it's phenomenal."

On-the-field respect is evident in the manner in which most All-Star rookies received their spots. Only two of the 26 were chosen by the fans -- Heyward and Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier.

"It's a big honor to be singled out amongst all the good outfielders in the league and be considered one of the top three by the fans," Ethier said. "It's something I never imagined happening. It's something special."

Fans, of course, have no voice in the selection of the pitching staffs, which include a total of 14 first-time choices split between players (Matt Capps, Adam Wainwright and Jimenez in the NL; Clay Buchholz, Neftali Feliz, Phil Hughes, Jon Lester and Price in the AL) and the respective managers (Yovani Gallardo, Meek and Rhodes in the Senior Circuit; Trevor Cahill, Fausto Carmona and Matt Thornton in the Junior Circuit).

The AL's other debutants are Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, Baltimore second baseman Ty Wigginton and Toronto catcher John Buck, who by virtue of being third in the players' vote replaces disabled runner-up Victor Martinez of the Red Sox.

The rest of the NL neo squad includes infielders Omar Infante of the Braves, Brandon Phillips of the Reds and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies (replaced by the Mets' Jose Reyes because of a fractured left wrist) and outfielders Michael Bourn of Houston, Marlon Byrd of the Cubs and Chris Young of Arizona.

"It's a fantastic feeling," said Bourn, one of the five position players added to the squad by Manuel. "I'm excited that I was able to make that team, and you'll never forget your first one."

Picked the season following one so frustrating that it drew his demotion to the Minors, Young welcomed his selection as "a huge blessing."

"Any time you can say you're an All-Star is special for me," Young said. "Just with the players that I'm going to be playing against and playing with, just to be able to pick their brains. There are going to be some great players there and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going to stay humble about it and I'm just going to enjoy it."

No one was more surprised, or more excited, than Infante, a utilityman valued by Manuel for his versatility.

"This morning, I got a phone call from [Braves general manager] Frank Wren and the first thought I got in my mind was, 'I got traded.' I was kind of nervous," Infante said. "I was choked up. By the time Frank Wren told me, 'Hey, you're going to the All-Star Game,' I thought that he was joking around. It took like five minutes to realize that I was going to the All-Star Game. I was jumping around with my wife and son. I was so happy. I was shocked, and I couldn't believe it."

At 32 and in his ninth season, Byrd waited longest for this honor among the position players.

"Marlon's done a nice job for us," manager Lou Piniella said of someone who has shone through an overcast season. "He plays hard, he's got some energy to him, he does a nice job out in center field. He's been a positive for us."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["all-star_game" ] }