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An All-Star Day at the Bases
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07/10/2004 11:07 PM ET
An All-Star Day at the Bases
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Ken Griffey Jr. had to miss the Century 21 Home Run Derby, but is happy to be in Houston. (AP)
HOUSTON -- Cleveland right-hander Jake Westbrook was named by AL manager Joe Torre Saturday as the replacement for Curt Schilling (deep bone bruise, right ankle) on the roster for Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Now, a lot of people in Houston are holding their breath to see what happens with Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey -- voted by fans into the first-ever starting outfield of all-500 Home Run Club members and scheduled to participate in the Century 21 Home Run Derby -- left the Reds' game Saturday at Milwaukee with a strained right hamstring. He returned to Cincinnati and be examined by Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek at Beacon Ortopedic Center. It was too early to tell whether the strain would affect Griffey's role in the All-Star festivities.

While many people already here for the festivities will be waiting anxiously to hear the news about Major League Baseball's all-time leading All-Star vote-getter, two other top-vote-getting American Idols were added to Tuesday's lineup. Fantasia, who won this year's competition on the FOX show, will sing the U.S. National Anthem before the game. Ruben Studdard, the previous year's winner in fan voting, will perform "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at Minute Maid Park.

MLB also officially announced that boxing legend Muhammad Ali will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ali, who will be escorted by his 13 year-old son, Asaad, will deliver two baseballs to the mound for the Houston-area Boys & Girls Club members to throw the ceremonial first pitches.

Bring on the sluggers
In an interview with MLB.com's Alyson Footer, Astros owner Drayton McLane said he is moved by better-than-expected attendance so far at the four-day FanFest and that he is especially looking forward to Monday, when commissioner Bud Selig will introduce the members of the 500 Home Run Club in a ceremony at Minute Maid Park.

"Everyone's very excited about that," McLane said. "It's going to be an historic event. To have all of them here in Houston ... it really is going to be an exciting day for the city of Houston and the Houston Astros. Just a great day for baseball."

The next day should be pretty exciting, too, and for the first time ever, fans can actually pre-order an All-Star Game. MLB.com's exclusive Digital Download Service allows fans to transfer the video file (Windows Media 9.0 format) over a high-speed connection for just $3.95. Keep it on your hard drive, then burn it onto a CD (for personal use only). For another $3.95, fans also can own Monday's entire Home Run Derby.

Saw it on the radio
MLB.com Radio will begin live coverage of Sunday's New York Mercantile Exchange All-Star Futures Game starting at 3 p.m. ET (the game begins at 4), and the show's live set at George R. Brown Convention Center was the place to be Saturday for FanFest visitors who fired questions from the crowd. The show was simulcast, allowing fans to watch the live video stream or listen to the live audio stream. The live guests included popular local fixture Larry Dierker, the former Astros player and manager, who joined Billy Sample and talked about topics including the longball.

Speaking about the arrival of all living members of the 500 Home Run Club, Dierker recalled when he was selected to the 1969 All-Star Game and one of his National League teammates took over a show that day. "I think I actually saw the roots of the Home Run Derby being planted," Dierker said. "We were taking batting practice, and Willie Mays stepped in and hit five or six home runs in a row. A lot of people got there early, they started cheering, and when he got up to nine or 10 it was a standing ovation. He finally hit one that didn't get out of park. It was a spontaneous home run derby that he put on. It was unbelievable.

"I also remember that Roberto Clemente hit a ball that would have been in the upper deck but was maybe five feet foul. The thing that was remarkable is he hit it to the opposite field. I've never seen a guy hit a ball that far in the opposite direction. It was up there enough that had it been fair it would have been an opposite-field homer in the upper deck."

There is another side to home runs, and there was also an example why MLB.com Radio is good for the average baseball coach, dad or mom as well. One FanFest visitor at the MLB.com Radio set introduced himself as a high school baseball coach and asked Dierker, "Is the home run hurting baseball? Right now we have a lot of kids coming up to high school ball who aren't fundamentally sound -- they see on TV that the home run is the big thing and want to do it as well."

Dierker replied: "It seems a lot of the big leaguers do, too. They want to hit the spectacular home run and go back to the hotel and turn the TV on and see if they're going to be on the highlight reel. I think it's your job, because in a sense you're the professional, you're getting paid to be the baseball coach, so it's your job to put it in perspective to them.

"Having watched my son play and talking to people around the ballpark, the only thing that really bothers me is that most of the coaches call the pitches for the pitchers. It might help you win, but I don't see how somebody sitting in the dugout can instinctively in their mind know when the pitcher feels he can throw a curveball or a fastball for a strike. The coaches say, 'We can't throw a fastball now,' so they call for a curveball now when the kid can't get it over. How is he gonna learn? If everything's done for him, the only thing he does is look for the sign, he doesn't think about what he should throw and why, what works and what doesn't. It takes the mental aspect of the pitching away from the athlete. We get a lot of young players coming into pro ball who, even in college, have never called their own game. You learn a lot better when you have to do it yourself."

All-Star Sunday fun
MLB.com has the Futures Game bios to prepare fans for what has become a popular addition to All-Star week. Connected fans have the chance to e-mail a question to a U.S. or World team member and have it asked during the game. Keep an eye out for details in the hours leading up to the game.

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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