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St. Louis stricken with baseball fever

St. Louis stricken with baseball fever

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ST. LOUIS -- It was about athletes: A field of 8,000 participating in a new All-Star running tradition; Twins prospect Rene Tosoni's RBI double that assured World's 7-5 victory over USA in the XM All-Star Futures Game; Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson walking on four Lee Smith pitches and then showing Ozzie Smith her perfect floor-exercise flips on the way to first base.

It was about fun: Brad Lincoln (Pirates) sloshing out onto the soaked outfield during a four-hour rain delay to throw a Frisbee in the outfield; Nelly throwing a pop fly from left-center over the catcher's head, but making good with a diving catch and then a home run and then crashing through the wall in left-center; 30 mascots in a home run contest at FanFest; medals for everyone in the All-Star 5K Charity and Fun Run presented by Sports Authority and Nike.

It was about Going Beyond: Founders of Stand Up To Cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Prostate Cancer Research Foundation were together for the first time at the start line of the morning race, continuing an overriding theme of this 80th All-Star Game and its festivities. "Today is about collaboration," SU2C co-founder Sherry Lansing told the runners.

It was about patience: Rain forced most of the 36,311 fans into the Busch Stadium concourses to seek shelter and caused scheduled World starter Junichi Tagawa (Red Sox) to go into the box score as having thrown zero pitches; it was the steady pace over a 3.1-mile course for that started at Busch and wound up at America's Center; and it was the first time in 33 years that a Cardinals ballpark opened its doors to host Major League Baseball's renowned summertime spectacle.

"It's what these fans deserve," said Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Famer known simply as "The Wizard" in his playing days at shortstop for the Redbirds. He was occupying Tony La Russa's managerial office for a day after taking the reins as the U.S. team's skipper. "These people here are as deserving as any baseball fans. The fact it is here in this new stadium, it's neat. The excitement is beautiful."

Baseball is meeting in St. Louis right now, and the fans are meeting at the Stan "The Man" Musial statue in their traditional baseball routine. They made the most of a wet but wonderful Taco Bell All-Star Sunday, and now their attention turns to the long ball. While the daily FanFest goes on again from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, the on-field focus will be Gatorade Workout Day featuring the State Farm Home Run Derby. Gates at Busch open at 5 p.m. and the Derby starts at 8.

This is when the awarded All-Star town not only gets an influx of fans from everywhere, but also when the best and the brightest of players make their way. The first half of the season is officially in the books, and perhaps fittingly it was the Cardinals who won the last game. They salvaged a doubleheader split with Sunday night's 4-2 victory over their rivals up at Wrigley Field, and while they were away, their ballpark was being overrun by the game itself.

The field is set for the Home Run Derby, so get your scorecards ready. Seven of the top 11 home run hitters are going to participate. Representing the National League will be hometown hero Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, Prince Fielder of the Brewers, Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres and Ryan Howard of the Phillies. Representing the American League will be late roster addition Carlos Pena of the Rays, All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote winner Brandon Inge, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and MLB batting leader Joe Mauer of the Twins.

That NL side looks a lot more fearsome than the AL guys, but that's only on paper. Last year, Josh Hamilton reminded everyone that predictions have no place in this contest. You just never know. Someone is going to sink into a groove, maybe not the way he did it a year ago at old Yankee Stadium, but it's all about rhythm.

Just consider how much that event means to Pena, the AL home run leader with 24:

"This is a huge deal to me," he said. "I'm not going to even pretend to play it cool or professional. I'm in shock. I've called half the world."

The Derby also includes the "Gold Ball" charitable component, instituted in 2005, in which Rawlings, the official supplier of baseballs to Major League Baseball, has created a specially designed gold baseball that will be used in every round when a player is down to his final out. For every home run hit by a Derby participant after his ninth out, Major League Baseball and State Farm will combine to donate $17,000 (representing State Farm's 17,000 agents) to Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Also, MLB and MasterCard Worldwide announced recently that Stand Up To Cancer, for the first time, will be the recipient of donations in the "Hit It Here" in-stadium promotion. The first home run to directly strike one of the MasterCard "Hit It Here" signs in Busch Stadium during the Home Run Derby or the 2009 MLB All-Star Game will result in MasterCard donating $1 million to Stand Up To Cancer.

Those who have that precious Gatorade Workout Day ticket on Monday will see a lot more than eight players going for the fences. That is when all the All-Stars get out on the field, mingling amongst their contemporary greats, taking batting practice and getting used to the setting. It is a time for special autographs. It is a time to wonder.

Will it be the first NL victory on Tuesday night since 1996? Naturally, more attention is being focused on that lopsided record with each year it grows. But here's something you probably didn't know: Starting with that 1933 All-Star Game, when Babe Ruth blasted the event's first homer, the AL has scored a combined 335 runs and the NL has scored 333.

Pitchers Trevor Hoffman of the Brewers and Zach Duke of the Pirates will try to help the NL. The former was named to replace Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton and the latter replaced Matt Cain. Pena was named by his own manager, AL skipper Joe Maddon, to replace Dustin Pedroia, who chose to be with his wife in case of premature labor.

It used to be that the NL stars dominated, and Ozzie Smith had a lot to do with that. He was a fixture, selected to 15 All-Star Games. That was from 1981-96, and the only time during that span that he was not selected was 1993.

On Sunday, he was back at the All-Star festivities but in a much different role. First he had to handle Futures Game duties, and then he was at his customary shortstop position for the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrities Softball Game.

"I never got one of these here in St. Louis [as a player], but this was I can be a part -- managing it," he said after his team's loss to World. "It's always fun to be around the guys. I've had to depend on the coaches, make sure nobody gets hurt and make sure all of them get a chance to play. Whitey [Herzog] was a master of the lineup card and getting the matchups you want. Here, you can't really do that. You just try to get everyone in there and compete."

Smith enjoyed it, but he said the experience does not make him wish for a dugout career after playing days are long over.

"I never got that bug," he said.

Johnson put in one of the best efforts of the day, getting up at dawn to make it to the starting line of the 5K for a 7:38 a.m. air-horn blast from Hall of Famer and Cardinal legend Lou Brock -- and then playing in the softball game that was delayed way, way into the night.

Even more impressive, however, was the effort of all those red-clad Cardinals fans whose collective reputation precedes them. You have to give them credit for sticking it out. There was an impressive showing in the stands during the late softball game. There were too many heroes and popular characters still there to ignore. Ozzie was out there. That's enough.

Vince Coleman was out there, too.

"These are beautiful fans," he said over the loudspeaker during an in-game interview. "When I played, we just tried to come out of the dugout and electrify them in some way."

That's what baseball is doing to this town right now.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of 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" ] }
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