Stadium's final Classic special for two

Stadium's final Classic special for two

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez remembers when the real meaning of the Midsummer Classic hit him. He was stumbling through his first press conference as an American League All-Star, sitting uncomfortably in the bowels of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium in 1996.

Staring into a sea of reporters, he spotted Cal Ripken Jr., and Rodriguez's heart skipped a beat. It was as if Babe Ruth himself had just walked through the door and parted the sea of press, particularly for a young shortstop still grinding to make a name in the game.

As the All-Star Game shifts to the current Yankee Stadium for the final time, Rodriguez and his Yankees teammates Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera find themselves in the reverse position, there only for allowing the hands of time to perform their inevitable movement.

Now among the elder statesmen and veterans of the clubhouse, Rodriguez said on Monday that he looks forward most to sharing the down moments of the festivities with the more youthful members of the AL roster.

"The different motivation is that I want to get to know the Evan [Longorias] and [Dustin] Pedroias and [Kevin] Youkilises of the world," Rodriguez said. "I want to really get to sit for five or 10 minutes and bring them into the conversations. When I think about All-Star Games, I can always think of conversations that I've had, whether it was Kirby Puckett or Mark McGwire, or Cal Ripken and Paul Molitor.

"I don't really remember the 1-1 pitch by [Greg] Maddux, even though that's important. It's the times in the training room getting iced, and they're telling you about their families and where they like to vacation. You can't do that during the season because it's so intense."

The selection of Yankee Stadium as this year's All-Star venue was no accident, not with the Yankees set to leave their once-renovated home since 1923 and move into a sparkling new billion-dollar Cathedral across the street next season, and not with Commissioner Bud Selig wanting to help honor the ownership tenure of George Steinbrenner.

From the moment Yankee Stadium was revealed as the choice for 2008, Jeter spoke firmly about wanting to make this All-Star Game, even if it comes at the expense of not making another for the rest of his career. The fans heard him, voting Jeter in overwhelmingly as the AL's starting shortstop, and Jeter is thankful.

"This is something that's pretty special, all being here with a celebration of the last year of Yankee Stadium," Jeter said. "This is the one All-Star Game that we all wanted to play in. This is the one I wanted to play in, the one I was looking forward to the most.

"Just being here, the game, you can take it out of it. Being around the atmosphere and being around all of the Hall of Famers, this is really something I'm going to remember."

With Major League games on break, the All-Stars opened the week with media availability at the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan before proceeding north to the Bronx.

The players smiled and spoke through the press session, but their thoughts were firmly placed under the lights at Yankee Stadium, where the State Farm Home Run Derby was to take place on Monday evening, continuing a series of events that kicked off Sunday with the XM All-Star Futures Game.

"I'm really looking forward to getting on the field and seeing what the atmosphere is like," Jeter said. "It's going to be special. It might be a little bit more special for guys like us who play with the Yankees, but I'm sure other teams are going to find it special as well.

"It's a celebration of the Stadium -- that's the best way to put it. This is a stadium that's been important to society, not only to baseball, because so many things have happened. To get the opportunity to celebrate it with this All-Star Game, Major League Baseball deserves a lot of credit."

After experiencing last year's Bay Area sendoff and celebration of the career of Barry Bonds in San Francisco, Rodriguez said he was glad to be a part of the New York event, having envied players like Bonds who could have an entire All-Star week revolve around them.

Bonds was not present in New York, though his agent, Jeff Borris, made the rounds and said he was "not optimistic" a Major League team would express interest in the all-time home run king. That left the home run record's possible future challenger to enjoy the spotlight that has shone upon him -- both positively and negatively -- since he first arrived in New York four years ago.

"I always dreamt of being part of something like this," Rodriguez said. "I'd be better suited to answer questions [about the All-Star Game] Tuesday at about 11:30 at night, but so far, so good. It's really a magical event that we have here. I look back to the 1984 Olympics in L.A., and that's really the only comparable [event] I can think of. It's once in a lifetime."

Rodriguez said that he had no regrets and no second thoughts about putting his power on display in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, despite a published report that stated Major League Baseball approached A-Rod again to see if he would take part and represent the Yankees in the Derby. The eight-player competition will continue without Rodriguez, and he laughed in saying that he probably wouldn't have stood a chance, 537 career home runs or not.

"I am so bad at it, I would embarrass myself and the whole city of New York, and I don't want to do that to this great city," Rodriguez said. "More than anything, I really do think it messes with your stroke a little bit, and my biggest responsibility is to hit cleanup for the Yankees."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, selected as a coach for the All-Star Game, said he had no problem offering his office to Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, who will pilot the AL squad.

A handful of NL players will be experiencing Yankee Stadium for the first time, and as someone who has become part of the building's history as a player, coach, broadcaster and now manager, Girardi said the thrill never goes away.

"I can remember just walking down the stairs to get to the hallway and get to the Yankees' clubhouse, and thinking, 'Wow, this is really kind of neat,'" Girardi said. "You think about the people that had done the exact same thing you had done, just all of the great players.

"Walking into the clubhouse and seeing the pictures and seeing Thurman [Munson]'s locker, it's really an unbelievable experience. Walking the tunnel into the dugout, you think that Yogi [Berra] walked there, and Mickey [Mantle]. It's really like you're in baseball heaven."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.