The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game promises to be a celebration of Yankee Stadium and its rich history in the American sporting scene, revolving around the New York Yankees' final season in the game's cathedral before moving into a gleaming facility across the street next season.
"We are all aware of the history of what has happened because of the success of the franchise, and we're looking forward to competing against the National League," said Francona, who will pilot the American League squad after bringing the Red Sox to their second World Series in four years. "Hopefully, it will be a game that they will talk about forever."
From the iconic frieze ringing the outfield fences to Monument Park and the very patches of land where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle roamed, there is plenty to celebrate at Yankee Stadium.
But it will be more than just an exhibition of hallowed ground, as the American and National Leagues again fight for home-field advantage in the World Series. The AL is looking to extend its unbeaten streak to 12 games, having last defeated the NL in the 2007 Midsummer Classic at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
"We're involved in this game, we play this game for the championship ring," said Hurdle, calling the shots from the NL dugout after bringing his Rockies within four victories of a title last October. "This game now gives a team a better opportunity, by winning this game, to win the
championship ring. That is the one point that I do want to make sure that our club is aware of and responsible for as we take the field."
Lee gets the starting nod for the AL after going 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 18 first-half starts. He is tied for first in the AL in wins and he became just the fourth pitcher in Indians history to start a season 11-1 or better, but the first since Charles Nagy did it in 1996.
"I'm just honored to be here, to be honest with you," Lee said. "To get the start is icing on the cake. I've never even been in an All-Star Game, let alone this one in the final year at this ballpark. It's something special."
Sheets will take the ball for the Senior Circuit. In 18 starts this season for the Brewers, he is 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA and ranks in the top 10 in the National League in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched) and strikeout/walk ratio among other categories. Tonight will mark his first game action ever in Yankee Stadium.
"I'm going to take the opportunity to see everything, like, what do they call them, the monuments?" Sheets said, referring to Monument Park. "I'm going to do a sightseeing tour and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
The home team will be represented by leading vote-getter Alex Rodriguez and Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who will comprise the left side of the starting AL infield. Mariano Rivera is likely to be called upon in the ninth inning should the AL get a lead that far, closing out the final All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium history.
"It's going to be special," Jeter said. "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."
The fact that Major League Baseball has selected Yankee Stadium for this year's festivities is no accident. An official announcement was made in Jan. 2007, with commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig citing the Stadium's rich history and also owner George Steinbrenner's impact on the game.
A special pregame ceremony will feature the largest gathering of baseball stars in history, with more than 40 Hall of Famers who will be honored on the field prior to the game as a gesture to the majesty and history of Yankee Stadium during its last year. The pregame ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. ET and will air live on FOX.
The All-Star events will be tinged with sadness following the passing of longtime Yankees outfielder and broadcaster Bobby Murcer, himself a five-time All-Star. Murcer passed away Saturday at the age of 62 following a 19-month battle with brain cancer, and there are plans to honor him prior to the start of the game.
Tonight will mark the fourth time that Yankee Stadium has hosted an All-Star Game, with Midsummer Classics also having been held there in 1939, 1960 and 1977. The Yankees reached the World Series in all three of those previous seasons.
It is the first time that a ballpark has hosted an All-Star Game in its final year and also the eighth All-Star Game to be held in New York; the Polo Grounds hosted the event in 1934 and 1942, Ebbets Field in 1949 and Shea Stadium in 1964.
The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage that will also be available on XM Satellite Radio, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.