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Fukudome embraces All-Star honor

Fukudome embraces All-Star honor

NEW YORK -- Kosuke Fukudome remembers watching on television from Japan as Ichiro Suzuki became a fixture for the American League in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. He also learned about Yankee Stadium in part from watching Hideki Matsui.

On Tuesday, he'll get a little taste of both experiences.

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While Ichiro prepares for his eighth All-Star Game, Fukudome will ready for his first. And in the process, the Cubs rookie will become the first player from Japan to crack the National League's All-Star lineup since Hideo Nomo started on the mound in the 1995 Midsummer Classic.

"I feel very happy and honored to be able to be given that opportunity," Fukudome said through an interpreter on Monday during All-Star media interviews at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

It's still a big honor in Japan, as suggested by the large group of reporters huddled around his table during the hour-long media session. Still, he didn't face a nonstop torrent of questions. Instead, it was more a steady stream of reporters going in and out for questions, and Fukudome doing his best to answer each and every one. In a season full of new experiences for him, this was another entry on the list.

Since coming over from Japan as a free agent this past winter, Fukudome has become a major part of a Cubs squad that will have six players on the NL's active roster for Tuesday's All-Star Game and two others taking part in festivities while unable to play due to injuries. While he has bounced around the batting order, hitting first, second, fourth and fifth, Fukudome has managed to roll with the day-in, day-out grind of the big league season.

Though his average has fallen from its early-season highs, Fukudome heads into the break with an impressive .383 on-base percentage -- 104 points above his batting average and second-best among Cubs regulars, only behind shortstop Ryan Theriot. His 59 runs scored also ranks second-best on the team, in this case behind Derrek Lee. His 55 walks rank ninth among NL players.

He'll bat eighth in the NL lineup on Tuesday, just ahead of a familiar face in fellow Cub Geovany Soto batting ninth. The unfamiliar part, relatively speaking, will be where Fukudome will be playing.

With Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Colorado's Matt Holliday rounding out the NL's outfield, Fukudome will start in center, something he has done in just three games for the Cubs this season. He has moved from his customary right field to center in three other games this season, but 80 of his starts have come in right.

It'll be a little different, he admitted, especially in an unfamiliar ballpark. Asked how strange it will be, however, he said, "Not that strange."

Nor will Yankee Stadium be strange, either. After all, he's one of the millions who have watched on TV as Matsui has become a star in New York over the last few years. He has seen enough that he values getting a chance to play there before the old ballpark is retired.

In the process, he hopes to learn a little more about the stadium and its story.

"I knew [about] Yankee Stadium before," he said. "That's famous enough. But I don't know about the history. I've yet to learn about it."

He'll no doubt get his chance. And in his own, small way, he'll become a part of that history.

"Everything is new every day," Fukudome said, "so it's a lot of fun."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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