SAN DIEGO -- Baseball will toast itself again tonight, but its annual mid-season pause for the All-Star Game has become more than just an exhibition made for television. Players gather, renew friendships, recall their pasts and think about their futures.
They did it yesterday, and New York, New York was one of the hottest topics.
David Cone, the Mets' free-agent-to-be, talked about coming back to Queens, or maybe even going to the Bronx. Bob Tewksbury, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, lamented his lost youth with the Yankees. Barry Bonds, certain to strike it rich this winter when he also becomes a free agent, talked about both teams.
"But my best offer might be from Japan," Bonds said, laughing.
Cone said he would consider the Yankees as an option when the season ends, but he remains intent on staying with the Mets.
"I'm not discounting any option at this point," he said. "But my loyalty is to the Mets. I consider it a great place to play, a great place to win. I'd like to experience that again. I'd like to get that feeling back again."
Could Bonds become a teammate? The Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder talked about his interest in Atlanta and San Diego, but he also mentioned both New York teams.
"Definitely the Yankees," he said. "They're in everybody's pocket.
"I'd love to play with Bobby Bonilla again," he added, referring to the Mets outfielder. "He's my best friend. I know how to make Bobby tick. I know how to get under his skin. And I like the Yankees. They've got [Danny] Tartabull, [Don] Mattingly and Mel Hall. Pitching is the only thing they lack."
Tewksbury might not be the best endorsement for New York. He spent his formative years with the Yankees but found success with the Cardinals after he washed out in the Bronx.
"It's a difficult place for a young guy to play," Tewksbury said yesterday before the NL and AL All-Stars worked out at Jack Murphy Stadium. "They don't have patience with young players, especially pitchers. They have great minor-league coaches and great facilities, and everything is first class. Unfortunately, when the young guys get ready to play in the big leagues, they get rid of them."
Tewksbury said he knew, too, that one bad game could become a ticket back to Triple-A Columbus.
"It took me a couple of years not to be afraid to talk to the press, not knowing how things would come out," he said. "It took a while not to worry about being sent down if you had a couple of bad games. I was walking on eggshells. In St. Louis, it's not do-or-die on a daily basis. You know that you can relax a little bit."
Tewksbury had shoulder surgery in 1988, when he was with the Chicago Cubs, and it picked his career up. Success in the minors gave him a second opportunity with the Cardinals.
"I look back at how different it is playing in St. Louis and New York," he said. "It's smaller in St. Louis, there are less people and less media, and you don't have the same pressure. But I played with guys like Mattingly and Winfield and Griffey and Willie Randolph. I played with some great players over there, and I'll never forget that. They just don't give young guys a chance."
The talking will stop tonight, when the 63rd All-Star Game gets under way.
Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves will be the NL's starting pitcher, and Kevin Brown of the Texas Rangers will open for the AL, which has won the past four games.
There is muscle in both dugouts, but pitching has been dominant for at least the past 10 years. The AL has given up six runs in its four-game winning streak, and the losing team has been held to 10 runs in the last eight games.
But the heart of the NL order will have Bonds, Fred McGriff and Terry Pendleton, who have a combined 46 home runs, and the AL will counter with Kirby Puckett, Joe Carter and Mark McGwire, who have totaled 61.
"As long as we don't have to pitch against Willie Mays," said Tom Kelly, the American League manager, "we should be all right."
Brown, 14-4 for the Rangers, is making his All-Star Game debut.
"This is still hard to believe," he said. "I'm afraid I'm going to wake up at any moment. It's just starting to hit me."
The reality could strike when Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and Bonds walk to the plate in the first inning. The top of the American League order will be Roberto Alomar, Wade Boggs and Puckett.
"You want to win this game," Brown said, "but no matter what happens tomorrow, it doesn't change what I did to get here. Even if I have a bad night, I can't let it affect me when I go back."
Mostly, it's a game just for the memories.
"This is an honor," said Bonds. "Nobody would turn this down. Maybe you'd like to be on the beach sipping a pina colada, but this is great."