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St. Louis seeing that wait was worth it

St. Louis seeing that wait was worth it

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ST. LOUIS -- No one waited longer between hosting All-Star Games than the wonderful baseball fans of St. Louis. They went 42 seasons between the last one in 1966 -- when 105-degree heat baked brand-new Busch Stadium and Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver scored the winning run for the National League -- and the one coming Tuesday night.

The next-longest wait was 37 years by Boston fans before their 1999 event.

As one might expect, they are living and breathing it here, appreciating this for all it's worth. They saw Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello for free under The Arch on Saturday night, they got up Sunday morning and ran the All-Star Charity 5K, they hung out through a long rain delay to watch the XM All-Star Futures Game and Taco Bell Legends & Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, and then they cheered on Albert Pujols but gave Prince Fielder a standing ovation for his 503-foot blast during the Brewers star's State Farm Home Run Derby championship.

The best part for St. Louis fans is knowing that whenever all of this leaves again and the Major League Baseball season returns to normal, their Cardinals are 2 1/2 games out front in the National League Central and ready for a homestand. They are ready to line the streets of downtown St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon for the MLB All-Star Red Carpet Parade Show presented by Chevy, and they are ready to watch the 80th All-Star Game in hopes the NL will win for the first time since 1996 and give World Series home-field advantage to ...

Ah, well, one can dream right now in the middle of July, with only relaxed fun at hand. Since 1977, when the Yankees hosted the All-Star Game and won the first of back-to-back titles, only one team has hosted the Midsummer Classic and participated in the subsequent World Series. You are pretty spoiled if you can pull that off. Cleveland did it in 1997, when the-then almost-new Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) hosted this game and then was the site of a seven-game World Series won by the Marlins. Those Yanks were obviously the last to host this event and win it all.

All-Star Week. Finally. For many, it has been too good to be true, and now the jewel event is about to arrive. There is buzz all over St. Louis, envy for those who found tickets, and a constantly large turnout for the daily FanFest action inside America's Center. There are stars everywhere. There is a "Going Beyond" overriding theme that is rubbing off on everyday people, a lead to follow for community service that goes hand-in-hand with everything on the field.

Here are some of the highlights:

AL and NL starting lineup
The All-Star managers named their starting lineups during the day on Monday, and the big news was that Roy Halladay (Blue Jays) and Tim Lincecum (Giants) will be starting pitchers. The not-so-big news was that it will be Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter once again at Nos. 1-2 atop the AL order. The last time they did not start the AL order was 2005.

STARTING LINEUPS
AMERICAN LEAGUE
Ichiro Suzuki, rf
Derek Jeter, ss
Joe Mauer, c
Mark Teixeira, 1b
Jason Bay, lf
Josh Hamilton, cf
Evan Longoria, 3b
Aaron Hill, 2b
Roy Halladay, p
NATIONAL LEAGUE
Hanley Ramirez, ss
Chase Utley, 2b
Albert Pujols, 1b
Ryan Braun, rf
Raul Ibanez, lf
David Wright, 3b
Shane Victorino, cf
Yadier Molina, c
Tim Lincecum, p

Speaking of lineups, here's one that sort of captures the moment.

State Farm Home Run Derby
Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, delivered here by fans who chose him in the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, never hit a single homer as one of the eight contestants. So why did he seem like the happiest guy at Busch?

"Some guys I talked to about it said they couldn't have fun because it was too stressful," Inge said afterward. "I loved it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I really would. I'd ask them to do it again. ...

"I told you I was going to have fun no matter what. You're not going to bring me down."

That kind of attitude was a microcosm of St. Louis sentiment. Yeah, the natives wanted Pujols to win. Badly. They did their best to spur him on, and even the Busch Stadium audio team got involved by playing loud music and suddenly firing up the crowd during Pujols' slow start. Pujols made it into the second round, but that was as far as he could go. Fielder and Nelson Cruz made it to the final round, and Fielder's 23 total homers proved enough to win it.

"I wish I could have put on a better show for the fans," Pujols lamented afterward. "But I'm thankful for the opportunity to be around these great players."

It was the second consecutive year that a Texas Rangers outfielder finished second in the Home Run Derby. Only this time it wasn't a Twins player that beat him; Joe Mauer, along with Carlos Pena of the Rays, were odd men out in that swingoff to decide the fourth guy who advanced from the first round after they each tied with five apiece.

All-Stars Among Us winners meet
For the first time, all 30 winners of the People magazine contest decided by fans all had a chance to gather in a show of true role-model power. They were greeted by Commissioner Bud Selig, who will hold his annual Town Hall Chat starting at 1:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday as a way of answering questions from baseball fans.

"They are pillars of their community," Selig said of the 30 winners. "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."

President Obama's first pitch
Many people are looking forward to the First Fan tossing out the ceremonial first pitch before this Midsummer Classic, and on Monday it was confirmed that Obama also has accepted FOX Sports' request to appear in the broadcast booth for an inning of the game.

This will be an historic night for Obama, who will become the first president since Gerald Ford in 1976 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before an All-Star Game. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were the only other Presidents who have accepted this honor during previous Midsummer Classics.

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. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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