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Loretta brings heart to Houston
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07/12/2004  4:13 PM ET
Loretta brings heart to Houston
Second baseman represents San Diego all year long
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Mark Loretta is having a career year with eight homers and 36 RBIs at the break. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
HOUSTON -- The Padres are only two games out in the National League West, which gave Mark Loretta precious little time to enjoy his first-ever selection to the National League All-Star team. The San Diego second baseman is the lone Padres representative to the 75th Midsummer Classic and he'll start the game on the bench Tuesday night.

"The announcement comes out a week before you leave for the game," Loretta said on Monday during a noon interview session. "You really can't get too excited about it because you have seven games left to play. For us, we're right there in the race. So I haven't really allowed myself to think abut it. But now that I'm here, it's starting to sink in a little bit."

Loretta's mind was as much on the Padres on Monday as it was on the immediate future, despite the fact that he was seated in a room surrounded by the biggest stars in baseball.

That wouldn't have surprised Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who last week called Loretta, in his second year with the club, "the heart and soul of the team."

2004 All-Star Game

The 32-year-old Loretta leads the Padres in hitting with a .323 batting average. More impressive still, his .473 slugging percentage is third among the regulars behind Phil Nevin and Brian Giles, who are both home run hitters. Loretta, who never hit more than seven homers in a season until last year (13 homers, 72 RBIs), already has eight home runs coupled with 36 RBIs.

"He doesn't say much, but he's emerged as one of the real team leaders," Bochy said. "He's so consistent and such a steady influence. The guys really listen to him in the clubhouse."

Loretta, who grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., has a business degree from Chicago's Northwestern University. If he wasn't a ballplayer, he'd be a corporate executive, he said, adding that he's only "one of 17 players in the Major Leagues to have a college degree."

Loretta, along with Yankees first baseman Tony Clark, is a league representative to the players association. In that capacity, he weighs in on such critical subjects as collective bargaining, any changes forthcoming in MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and whether the two-year experiment that links the winning league in the All-Star Game to home-field advantage in the World Series will be renewed this offseason.

"I'm not sure," Loretta said. "We all think winning the All-Star Game should be linked to something, we're just not sure that this is the right answer. Really, though, it's not our most contentious issue."

About MLB's quest to broaden the current drug program beyond once-a-season steroids testing, Loretta said: "We're in a holding pattern on that right now."

About the All-Star Game, Loretta said that he's most looking forward to the player introductions before Tuesday night's game.

"I used to love that when I was a kid," Loretta said. "All the guys coming out in their own uniforms representing the different teams."

But he's also looking forward to rejoining his teammates and mixing it up in a division-title race with the Dodgers and Giants that should linger deep into the season. The Padres are only 1 1/2 games out in the battle for the NL's Wild Card spot as well.

"I think we need to play better," Loretta said about the Padres, who lost four of their last five coming into the break. "Whether that means a change in personnel I'm not too sure. We have the pieces to be a winning club, to be a division-winning team. We've talked about consistency. We've been a real streaky team. But if we're healthy, I think we have the guys here to do it. I really do."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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