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First-timers can't take ASG for granted

First-timers can't take ASG for granted

ST. LOUIS -- Former outfielder Lee Mazzilli will never forget his lone All-Star Game appearance in 1979.

A career .259 hitter who never hit more than 16 home runs in a season during his 14-year career, Mazzilli entered in the eighth inning for the National League and hit a pinch-hit homer to tie the game. He then came up in the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs and drew a walk that brought in the game-winning run.

Not bad for your only All-Star Game memory.

"It's something that I think about all the time," said Mazzilli, who went on to coach for the Yankees from 2000-03 and 2006 and manage the Baltimore Orioles from 2004-05. "There are certain things in life that you keep with you, and that happens to be one of those things."

Mazzilli was luckier than some who are stuck with less than memorable experiences from their only All-Star Game appearances. And with 23 first-time All-Stars heading to St. Louis for this year's game, reality begins to set in: For several of them, this could be the only chance they get, and -- good or bad -- the memories they make will live with them forever.

When Mazzilli was selected to the Midsummer Classic at age 24, many figured he would make a return trip to the game at some point in his career. But in 10 more seasons with five different teams, the outfielder and eventual first baseman never again was selected to play among baseball's best.

Luckily for him, his one memory is a good one.

"You want to get back as much as you can," Mazzilli said. "But I was just fortunate to get in one and hit a home run. Just being picked for one was overwhelming getting a chance to play with the greats of the greats. I played with players on that team that I watched when I was younger.

"I don't know if you really get a chance to really understand what kind of impact you had until after the fact. Years later, people talk to you about it and bring it up, and it's a good memory. It's a special one."

Pitcher Atlee Hammaker wasn't as lucky as Mazzilli when he made his lone All-Star Game appearance four years later, in 1983. Hammaker rode a career year in which he went 10-9 with a league best 2.25 ERA into a spot on the NL All-Star team for the only time in his career, but he didn't have the outing he had hoped for.

The lefty entered in the third inning and gave up seven runs on six hits and entered the record books by giving up the first grand slam in All-Star Game history to Fred Lynn. He retired just two of the nine hitters he faced and also was tagged by Jim Rice for a solo shot.

Despite making the All-Star team at age 23, Hammaker wasn't given another shot to redeem himself. None of his nine remaining years in the Major Leagues were All-Star caliber, and he retired in 1995 with his only memory of a Midsummer Classic a disappointing one.

Catcher Bob Brenley, now a broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs, also doesn't have the lasting memories he had hoped for when he made his only All-Star Game in 1984 as a member of the host San Francisco Giants.

Brenley pinch hit with runners at second and third base and two outs in the sixth inning but struck out to end the threat. It would be the only All-Star at-bat in the career of the nine-year veteran.

"I never thought I'd play a game in the big leagues, let alone get an opportunity to play in an All-Star Game," Brenley said. "It was a great experience. For a lot of the guys on the NL team, it was old hat -- they'd gone to a lot of All-Star Games. I felt like a kid in the candy store.

"I had some decent years after that, but never close to an All-Star year."

Pitcher Mike Krukow had to wait 11 years before being selected to his first and only All-Star Game in 1986 at the Astrodome in Houston. The righty, now a broadcaster with the Giants, had easily the best year of his career when he went 20-9 with a 3.05 ERA and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

"I played 10 years before I made it," Krukow said. "As a Major League player, you want to get a ring. You can get it by winning a pennant or World Series or going to an All-Star Game or making the Hall of Fame. Those are your ring opportunities. So after 10 years in the big leagues, I didn't have a ring. I'd listen to these guys tell stories about them and I'd turn into a 12-year-old kid. And I'm 34 years old by the time I made it."

With the NL trailing, 3-2, Krukow was called upon to pitch the ninth inning and keep the deficit at one run. He did just that, retiring Cal Ripken Jr., Jesse Barfield and Frank White in order, but the NL couldn't score in the bottom of the ninth and lost by a run.

"The whole thing was magical," Krukow said. "It was an unbelievable adrenalin hit. If I hadn't had any big-game experience or [pitched on] Opening Day, I would not have known how to handle the adrenalin hit that I got when they told me I was pitching the ninth. It was unbelievable. It was an amazing surge. I threw three pitches and I was loose. I sat down and said, 'I've gotta calm down.'"

A trio of one-hit wonders helped the American League win the 2003 All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The biggest blow came from Texas Rangers infielder Hank Blalock -- 22 years old and in his first full season in the big leagues at the time -- who hit a memorable two-run home run in the eighth inning off the unhittable Eric Gagne to help the AL turn a 6-5 deficit into a 7-6 win.

Blalock, who became the first AL player to hit a pinch-hit homer in his first All-Star at-bat, hasn't made the All-Star team again in six seasons since.

"It's been the highlight of my career," Blalock said. "The timing of hitting a game-winning home run in the first year that the All-Star Game determined home-field advantage [for the World Series] made it even more exciting and more of a difference-maker than just winning an All-Star Game.

"Obviously hitting a game-winning home run is an awesome feeling. It's a feeling you wish you had more often, but if you did, it wouldn't be as special. The chance of hitting a game-winning home run in the All-Star Game is like hitting the lottery."

Blalock is reminded of the homer before every home game when they show it on the video board as part of a historical montage of great Rangers moments.

"What's funny is the first time they showed it this year, Andruw Jones started cussing at me," Blalock said." He was playing center field for the NL and he had hit a home run. He was going to be the MVP. He started cussing at me for not getting it. It's pretty ironic though. Neither of us got it. Garret Anderson did."

Brendan Donnelly, pitching in his only All-Star Game to date, earned the win in that game with a 1-2-3 top of the eighth and Keith Foulke -- also making his lone All-Star appearance -- earned the save with a scoreless ninth.

So the message to the 23 first-year All-Stars who will be at Busch Stadium on July 14? Don't take it for granted, because you never know if you will have a chance to come back.

"Just soak it all up and enjoy it," Mazzilli said. "Get autographs, get pictures, things like that that you can share with your grandkids one day. When I played, unfortunately, we didn't have the kind of media coverage like we do now, so just soak it all in. It's a really special day. It really is special."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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