07/05/09 8:15 PM ET
Fresh faces dot All-Star landscape
Several first-timers join young returnees in St. Louis
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
"My goal is to never have an All-Star break," Braun said Sunday, no doubt echoing his young cohorts' thoughts.More than the new regulars, the youthful air about this gathering of All-Stars comes from the fact they're joined by a number of first-timers who bring a definite 20-something feel to the 80th Midsummer Classic. There's the Jays' Aaron Hill, the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, the Rays' Ben Zobrist, the Orioles' Adam Jones, the A's Andrew Bailey and the Royals' Zack Greinke for the AL, all young and making their first All-Star appearances. And in the NL, the kids' club includes Justin Upton of the D-backs, Hunter Pence of the Astros, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, Matt Cain of the Giants and Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers. You can throw in Tim Lincecum, the NL's reigning Cy Young Award winner, since he was on the NL team last year at the old Yankee Stadium, but he missed the game because of illness. Upton probably speaks well for all of them with his reaction to being selected for the first time. "This is awesome," Upton said. "I'm just pumped about the selection and being able to go to St. Louis and being able to be a part of everything. Just the honor of being an All-Star is good enough for me."
Of the young first-timers, few are as unlikely an All-Star as Bailey, who a year ago was 1-8 with a 6.18 ERA -- in the Double-A Texas League. A switch to relief and a trip to the Arizona Fall League earned him a chance at the Majors this season, and he obviously took it and ran with it.Said A's manager Bob Geren: "You think of him in October last year, pitching in the Arizona Fall League in front of a couple hundred people at night, to the All-Star Game nine months later -- that just tells you the great opportunity that there is in this game." The flip side of the influx of youth is that some familiar names have been supplanted -- including two with long All-Star resumes. Manny Ramirez (11 consecutive All-Star appearances) and Alex Rodriguez (nine) won't be the only household names missing during this gathering of baseball's best. Stalwarts like Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Alfonso Soriano, David Ortiz, Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Webb and Chipper Jones won't be there, either. For one, Berkman wasn't too upset with the news Sunday, knowing Pence and veteran teammate Miguel Tejada would be getting to soak in the All-Star experience. "I know Hunter's going to be excited. Both are well-deserving and they've played real good for us in the first half," said Berkman, a five-time All-Star. "It's just great. Everyone should get to go to at least one All-Star Game because they're a lot of fun. I'm sure Hunter will get to go to many more. It's a blast."
Jones, the third baseman who has played his entire 16-year career with the Braves, is a six-time All-Star and was on the National League squad that lost, 4-3, in 15 innings to the American League last year at the old Yankee Stadium.Oswalt, the Astros' lithe power pitcher, wasn't on the NL team last year, but he was on it three years running from 2005-07. Hoffman, now the closer for the Brewers, is a six-time All-Star and was on the NL team in 2006 and '07. The long-time closer for the Padres, and the all-time leader with 572 saves, has been supplanted this year by his San Diego replacement Heath Bell, who in his first year in the closer's role, leads the league with 23 saves in 24 opportunities. Hoffman has 18 saves for Milwaukee. Webb, a former NL Cy Young Award winner and an All-Star for three years running from 2006-08, has been on the disabled list since Opening Day with a sore right shoulder. Ditto, Ben Sheets, a four-time All-Star and the starter for the NL in last year's game, who didn't even sign a contract as a free agent this past offseason because of an arm injury. Of the returning All-Stars, Ichiro Suzuki is playing in his ninth consecutive game for the AL, Pujols is playing in his seventh in a row and eighth overall, and Michael Young is playing in his sixth in a row. And among the younger crowd, Longoria, Pedroia, Ramirez and Braun all have two-year streaks going that they have no intention of stopping.
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.