With preliminaries over, it's time for best vs. best In this group, homer champ takes seat

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

July 13, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

It's the world's best pickup baseball game.

A five-time batting champion hits eighth.

A first baseman who would rather be in Keyser, W. Va., bats cleanup.

And the man who wins a home-run contest sits on the bench.

This is the 64th All-Star Game, and it will be unfurled tonight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The first pitch is scheduled for 8:37 p.m., as 28 of the best players of the American League meet 28 of the best of the National League.

After a symphony, a road race and a FanFest, after a 23-year-old outfielder named Ken Griffey Jr. became the first man to hit a ball off the B&O warehouse wall and a retired third baseman named Brooks Robinson turned two double plays in an old-timers' exhibition, there is finally, and simply, a game among stars.

"It's time for us to bond a little bit, sit around and tell some lies," Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett said. "We're like little boys."

But the millionaire boys of summer can play.

So you've got Wade Boggs of the New York Yankees, the five-time batting champion, hitting eighth for the American League.

"That has never happened to me before," he said. "Not even in Little League."

And John Kruk, the reluctant Philadelphia Phillie who would rather be home in West Virginia, will bat cleanup for the National League.

"This is a strange country, man," Kruk said. "Apparently, they want to see a strange person. Well, they got it."

And Juan Gonzalez, the Texas Rangers slugger who slammed a ball off the facing of the third deck in left field on his way to a home-run derby crown yesterday, will start the game on the American League bench.

"I cannot remember any homers that I have ever hit further," he said.

That's part of the All-Star magic, the ability for one event to create myths and legends.

The game has grown big and commercial and beautiful all at the same time. Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver remembers a time he showed up for an All-Star workout and only 3,500 fans attended.

"We probably gave autographs to everyone who showed up," he said.

No more. Yesterday's All-Star workout at Camden Yards drew a record crowd of 47,981.

The fans roared for Reggie Jackson, soon the newest Hall of Famer, to knock a ball into the stands.

And he did.

They roared for Michael Jordan, who showed why he should stick with slam-dunk contests and not home-run derbies.

"It is just hard to believe," Weaver said. "It shows baseball is our national pastime."

The fans remain true believers in the American game.

Roger Hunt, up from New Orleans, was showing his 9-year-old son, Nicholas, the game's great players. So what if he has been forced to dig deep into his pockets to buy tickets?

Father and son are having the times of their lives.

"We scalped our way into the ballpark for a game Saturday night and for the All-Star workout," the father said. "We'll try to scalp our way in again for the All-Star Game. But I've got to tell you, we're about scalped out."

Frank Jablonski of Towson spent part of the All-Star workout beyond right field, watching fly balls land just short of the warehouse. He was gone by the time Griffey hit the wall.

"This is baseball at its finest," Jablonski said. "For one day, the money is gone, and it's all about fun. But, on Thursday, it all begins again."

Still, the players are taking their time, savoring their All-Star moments.

Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates, injured yet voted to the starting National League team, is here. He'll sit and watch.

"Every player is a little in awe of what the other player can do," he said. "It's like a room being filled with a Lincoln or a Jefferson."

Gregg Jeffries of the St. Louis Cardinals, the last man named to the National League team, is at his first All-Star Game.

"You always hear about All-Star Games," he said. "You always dream about them. And then, when it is a reality, it's like it's not real."

Cal Ripken of the Orioles can tell you about All-Star Games. Ten times a starter, he's in a slump at the plate, and, yes, he's even a bit embarrassed to be in the game.

"Baseball is pretty important around here," he said. "I understand that."

So does Mike Mussina, the Orioles pitcher in his second All-Star Game.

Yesterday, he stood by his locker and looked around the Orioles clubhouse, which was filled with American League stars.

He was, in a word, impressed.

"What's amazing is to think about all the talented players who aren't here," he said. "And then you see the guys in the clubhouse who are here, and you ask yourself: 'Which of these guys are going to the Hall of Fame?' "

Plenty of them.

This is the All-Star Game.

Pickup baseball never looked so good.

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