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All-Stars Among Us get taste of big time

All-Stars Among Us get taste of big time

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ST. LOUIS -- There they were, more than 30 role models if there ever were ones, the All-Stars Among Us as determined by baseball fans -- all gathered together for the first time in Salon B at the Hyatt next to the Arch, all wearing white replica jerseys to represent their teams, meeting one another and humbled just as they humbled you.

They were bunched together for a group photo, and then, all of a sudden, into the big room walked Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to greet them for the first time. Many of them let out a collective yelp of surprise when they suddenly realized Bob Costas was right there in front of them now as well. They hushed and Selig spoke:

"I want to thank you for everything that you've done. This has been a remarkable experience I know for all of us, and I hope it has for you as well. This is a great honor for baseball to have all of you. And I want to thank you for all that you've done. I hope it sets a big standard for people who will be watching you the next 48 hours."

These are the people who were chosen by MLB and People magazine for their community service. Nearly 750,000 votes were cast by fans across the nation in the All-Stars Among Us campaign to select the 30 winners -- one per Major League team -- out of the pool of 90 finalists who are serving as leaders within their communities.

Before the American and National League All-Stars meet on the field Tuesday in a display of wondrous baseball talent, these winning nominees will be introduced on the field to a packed house at Busch Stadium and a global viewing audience on FOX. It is the highlight of an overriding theme called "Going Beyond" during this Midsummer Classic.

"As we were planning for this year's All-Star Game, the country was and is in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Those facts are clearly inescapable," Selig explained. "Given that and given the fact that baseball is a social institution with, I believe, very important social responsibilities, we decided it was very important for Major League Baseball to focus efforts on community service and our charitable initiatives.

"At the center of this effort is the All-Stars Among Us program. We created this initiative with People magazine to celebrate 30 people who are making a difference in their communities by honoring them at the All-Star Game. And I want to say to all of you and to those people this morning, they are pillars of their community. They help the underprivileged, fighting disease, supporting our troops. The All-Stars Among Us have sacrificed their time and energy to help others. And that's what we are here today to celebrate."

All five living U.S. presidents will appear in a video salute to the volunteers who comprise the "All-Stars Among Us" in an unprecedented collaboration before the 80th All-Star Game at Busch Stadium. President Barack Obama, who later will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, will be joined in the seven-minute video by Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. It will be the first time all of the living presidents participate in any sporting-event ceremony.

The video messages will be part of the pregame salute of the 30 men and women chosen by MLB and People magazine for their community service. It is one humbling moment after another right now for these everyday heroes, but what you found on their first day together was that it's also vice versa.

Just ask Joe Maddon, manager of the Rays and the AL team in this game.

Each of the All-Stars Among Us were brought in single file into the adjacent Salon A room, which was packed with baseball media there mainly for the All-Star lineups news conference. These winners then sat in the three reserved rows of seats in front, and right in front of them at the dais, from left to right, were AL starter Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, Maddon, AL honorary president Jackie Autry, NL honorary president Bill Giles, NL/Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and NL starting pitcher Tim Lincecum of the Giants. Costas was the emcee at the lectern.

"I thought it was pretty neat," Maddon said after the half-hour news conference. "That's what I was focusing on, though, the people in the front rows. And I know it's got to be a unique experience for them. I think it's pretty good stuff."

Maddon was then introduced to the Rays' winning representative, Tommy Timberlake III. Timberlake makes it possible for disabled people to experience the joy of sailing in a safe, supportive environment. A qualified instructor, he has spent hundreds of hours teaching sailing to individuals with physical and mental disabilities, including paraplegia, autism and Down syndrome. He takes sailors ages 16-70 to local regattas.

"Nice jersey," Maddon told him. "Looks great on you."

Their stories are all so different and yet all so similar. The coolest thing about seeing them all together was watching them network amongst themselves. You could see the direct payoff of this entire campaign by looking around the room filled with them. They all have similar needs, whether it's in the areas of fundraising, seeking grants, working with underprivileged children, reaching into international territories and establishing contacts.

For example, Christine Shively is the Angels' representative and has brightened the lives of 18,500 strangers suffering from cancer by knitting and crocheting caps through her organization Knots of Love. She sends them to 140 cancer centers around the U.S., Canada and Mexico, providing warmth and TLC in times of need.

"She's going to send me some caps," said Richard Nares, the Padres' representative. He started the Emilio Nares Foundation after his young son died of cancer. The organization's "Ride With Emilio" program transports sick children to their weekly cancer treatments and medical appointments when their families lack access to transportation. It is a vital service for families coping with a child's illness, and knowing Shively is practically in his backyard was an example of how these winners are getting to know each other and even work together.

Nares said he is especially proud that Obama will be highlighting his organization in the video that fans will see. And Clinton will be highlighting Shively's organization. Here is the lineup of other presidential introductions:

Former President George W. Bush comments on Rob Dixon (Brockton, Mass. -- Red Sox), who founded Project RISE, a non-profit organization that transforms at-risk youth into serious students.

Former President George H.W. Bush honors Gary Lynn (Houston, representing the Astros), a 17-year-old with cerebral palsy who started his own foundation and has raised more than $12,000 for cerebral palsy research.

Former President Jimmy Carter talks about Ryan Housley (Tyrone, Ga. -- Braves), who started HeroBox, a non-profit that supplies specialized packages for soldiers based on their individual needs.

Before the start of the lineups news conference, Selig asked the 30 winners to stand so that they could be singled out. It is about to reach a much bigger level at Busch.

"Everybody feels humbled to be here, but to know that people are in a position of power to promote it, I hope it encourages others to know it's not that hard to change other lives," said Sherri Friedman. She founded and runs Most Valuable Kids of Greater Cincinnati, an organization that distributes unused tickets to underprivileged children. Friedman has helped more than 22,000 kids experience these events, including more than 4,800 tickets to Reds games.

"We all started very small."

All of the winners will appear in People magazine. Peter Castro, the publication's deputy managing editor, said that is the type of content people want to read.

"Celebrating heroes has been part of our DNA since we were founded in 1974, and every week in the magazine, we feature a new hero among us," Castro said during the news conference. "We can't live on Jennifer Aniston stories alone; unfortunately, our readers could not live with that. I personally would have to jump out the window if all I edited were Paris Hilton stories. On that level alone, I thank you. The All-Stars Among Us campaign extends the Heroes Among Us franchise campaign, which has been very successful, dedicated to receive the courage of individuals dedicating their lives to making a difference."

During the group photo, the Yankees' winning representative -- the brother/sister team of Christina and Michael Pesci -- were standing next to the Red Sox's winning representative, Dixon. They are used to their teams' fans not liking each other much.

"I'm standing next to him, and his name is Rob," Michael said. "I said, 'It's not too often Red Sox and Yankees stand together like this.'"

Both of their organizations help youths in similar ways. Both of their stories are so similar to the ones that were being told by others around the room. They are stories that are about to be heard on a wide, wide basis. The All-Stars Among Us are headed to the big game now.

The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, 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. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will continue to provide extensive online coverage.

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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