Wakefield soaking in All-Star experience

Wakefield soaking in All-Star experience

ST. LOUIS -- Five Red Sox All-Stars took up their own corner of the room during the American League media availability on Monday afternoon, but one was easy to distinguish from the others.

At last, the elder statesman had become the rookie, and you couldn't wipe the smile off Tim Wakefield's face.

"It's been a long time," said the veteran knuckleballer. "The older you get, the more you really appreciate your opportunity. I'm very thankful that I'm here. I'm very thankful to still be putting on the uniform at 42 years old."

In truth, he didn't expect to be here, and how could he? The only player in Major League history to appear in an All-Star Game for the first time who was older than Wakefield was 46-year-old Satchel Paige, and that was back in 1952.

So Wakefield is doing something that hasn't been done in more than a half-century. No wonder his All-Star teammates -- from Jason Bay to Josh Beckett to Kevin Youkilis to Jonathan Papelbon -- were so thrilled to share the experience with him.

"I think it's the best story of the All-Star Game," said Bay. "For a guy to play [17] years and then play in his first All-Star Game and kind of be like a kid around here, it's fun, as a player, to watch. Especially as his teammate, to watch him with the video camera out, it's fun to see."

Yes, the Wakefield family camcorder will be present over these next couple of days.

The Red Sox's All-Stars chartered their own plane from Boston to St. Louis, and Beckett thought watching Wakefield relish the moment with his family was about the most enjoyable aspect of the flight.

"We were on the plane yesterday and they were excited, so I'm really happy for him and his family," Beckett said. "It's awesome, it really is. His kids are old enough to where they understand and it's exciting for them."

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera couldn't resist having some fun with Wakefield when he spotted him checking in at the hotel.

"Mariano said, 'Now I can call you a rookie,' so that's pretty cool," said Wakefield.

For so many years, new players have come to the Red Sox and asked Wakefield all the ins and outs about life in Boston. During the time in St. Louis, there will be a big game of role reversal going on. Wakefield is the only one of the Sox's All-Stars to be at the showcase event for the first time.

"I've usually been the one that's getting asked the questions," Wakefield said. "It's actually kind of cool to ask Josh and Pap and all the guys what to expect here."

Wakefield plans on enjoying every piece of the experience in what has been a special year for him thus far. Aside from going 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA, Wakefield passed Roger Clemens for the most starts in team history. Wakefield is up to 189 career wins, which means he will likely reach the 200-win milestone next year. With 174 wins for the Red Sox, Wakefield is also inching closer to the club record of 192, currently shared by Clemens and Cy Young.

When did the possibility of being an All-Star first creep into his mind?

"Not at the beginning of the season," said Wakefield. "It's not one of your goals when you go into the season, because it's so team-oriented. The beginning of the season, it started off really well. My second start, I took the no-no into the eighth. [I'm] just trying to win games. That was the biggest thing. Then you look up, and then there's nine wins, then there's 10 wins -- 'I have a chance to make the All-Star team this year.' It wasn't until then that I really started thinking about it."

And now he is living it.

"It's really cool," said Youkilis. "It's a great story. For Wake to be here for the first time, it's an honor to be here with him. For all the hard work he's put in, it's a great accomplishment for him and we're just excited to see him out here. But I feel bad for whoever has to catch him. That could be a little iffy. I saw the Charlie Hough All-Star Game [in 1986] on MLB Network and that didn't look pretty."

The duty of catching the knuckler will fall to either Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez.

"They might want to take my first baseman's glove with them," joked Youkilis.

The other Sox All-Stars have their own angles as well.

For Papelbon, the All-Star Game has become an annual part of his calendar. This is his fourth appearance in his four seasons as the Sox's closer. Though Papelbon's outings have been more laborious than in years past, he is having another terrific season, posting a 1.85 ERA and converting 23 of his first 25 save opportunities.

He looks forward to maybe facing Albert Pujols for the first time.

"I'd love to," said Papelbon. "Great hitters like that have very minimal holes in their swing and can pretty much dictate the outcome of a game with one swing, and [it] really tests what you're made of. Guys like him and Manny [Ramirez] and Alex [Rodriguez] and Albert, you face those guys and they'll let you know what you're made of real quick. I tend to like the challenge, and if I fail, I fail. If I don't, I don't. You tend to know where you stand real quick with those types of hitters."

As for Beckett, who is 11-3 with a 3.35 ERA, this has been a season of rejuvenation after the injuries and inconsistency of year ago. This is the second All-Star berth of Beckett's career. He was the winning pitcher for the AL in 2007, firing two scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Beckett finished off his impressive first half with a complete-game shutout against the Royals on Sunday. It was the second shutout for Beckett since June 21.

"Josh, he's been our bulldog," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "When he's healthy, he can really do a lot with the baseball."

Bay is making his third All-Star appearance, but first with the Red Sox. The left fielder is hitting .260 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs.

Then there is Youkilis, who is hitting .298 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs, and representing the AL for the second consecutive season.

"It's a little more stress-free this time," said Youkilis. "It's not like I'm a veteran at this, but there was so much excitement on every little thing you did last year. 'Where am I going? What kind of madness will there be?' But now I know it's coming and you know what to expect, and that's easier on your mind and your family. They know what's going on."

And Wakefield will happily learn what's going on as he experiences one first after another during his time in St. Louis.

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