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Archive for Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stadium biggest all-star of all

July 15, 2008

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— All the All-Stars walked onto baseball's most famous field, soaking up the history.

Manny Ramirez threw a ball to fans as his son scampered around the outfield in shorts during Monday's workout. Mariano Rivera stood in center, surrounded by his three boys, all in new American League uniforms. Joe Girardi and his son were in left-center, wearing matching outfits, even down to the sunglasses.

"I catch myself actually looking up at seats where I sat as a kid and saying, 'Wow, that's pretty cool that, you know, I actually watched the game from there and now I'm down here and somebody else is watching us," Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan said.

Before closing later this year, the 85-year-old ballpark hosts the All-Star game tonight as part of its grand send-off. Major League Baseball is taking a year off from showcasing the sport's shiny new emporiums and toasting the House that Ruth Built, DiMaggio won over and Reggie conquered.

Albert Pujols set some goals, and for a change they didn't involve home runs.

"Maybe tear up the grass a little bit and put it in the back of my pocket and take it with me," the St. Louis Cardinals slugger said.

It's the place where Lou Gehrig said goodbye, where Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali boxed, where popes celebrated mass. But most of all, it's remembered for the 26 World Series titles the New York Yankees have won since the Stadium opened its doors in 1923.

No other team in baseball can match the tradition.

No other place can equal the aura.

"If you stand toe to toe with the beast and you can conquer this stage, then you've reached the apex," Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I think walking through that dark, dingy tunnel into the dugout - I don't think there's any player that's ever done it that hasn't gotten chill bumps. ... It's the biggest stage in baseball. If you can't get fired up to take those three steps up the dugout steps and onto that field, man, you don't have a pulse."

He called it a huge coliseum. Right next door, an even bigger one is under construction, 63 percent larger, to be filled with restaurants, bars and seats costing up to $2,500 a game next year. The new Yankee Stadium will look much like this one - before the 1974-75 reconstruction, but it won't be the same.

"I'm really going to miss those guys down in the bullpen throwing AA batteries at me," Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "I'm really going to miss the people yelling at me. They'll probably just move right across the street."

Papelbon knows the ballpark from all those Red Sox-Yankees games. Tim Lincecum was ready to be a tourist. The San Francisco Giants pitcher, who is 24 but looks like one of the Beatles at age 14, wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to see.

"Babe Ruth and his head out there in - I don't know exactly where it is, because I've never been there, but I've seen people touch it," he said.

For one night only, players on the home team walked onto the field in numbers long retired, with Evan Longoria wearing Ruth's No. 3, Ian Kinsler's in Joe DiMaggio's No. 5, and J.D. Drew and Joe Mauer in Mickey Mantle's No. 7. Red Sox roamed the Yankees clubhouse, allowed a rare peek into the pinstripes' inner sanctum.

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