A lot of new faces
First time's a charm for 24 All-Stars
Posted: Monday July 12, 1999 10:33 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- When Texas Rangers reliever Jeff Zimmerman found out he had made his first All-Star team, he was hoping he would get a chance to meet Cal Ripken Jr. When the two rode in the same elevator on Monday afternoon, though, Zimmerman was too intimidated to interrupt.
Cincinnati's Scott Williamson, on the other hand, just wants to meet Zimmerman, who was playing in front of double-digit crowds in France five years ago and then all but gave up the game.
"I'd like to meet him and say, 'Look at us. We're longshots,'" said Williamson, who couldn't get past hotel security until Reds teammate Barry Larkin vouched for him. Now that he's finally gotten in the door, Williamson has one goal for the game: "Don't fall down. You've got your whole family watching."
With Ripken making his 17th All-Star appearance and the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run derby taking Fenway's center stage, it's easy to forget there are players in the All-Star game who are here less to put on a show than to see one.
And this year, with a whopping 24 players making their first All-Star appearance, Ripken and McGwire will be signing even more autographs for their teammates than usual.
The fan voting for baseball's midsummer classic has long favored older stars with bigger names, whether they were having a good year or not. And this season is no exception: all 17 of the fans' favorites -- there was no designated hitter voting in the NL -- have All-Star experience.
But when the managers and league presidents went to fill out the reserve rosters, it was time for the deserving lesser-knowns to get their recognition.
"Sometimes the first year is the toughest to get in, because fans look at guys who have been doing it for a while," said San Diego manager Bruce Bochy, the perfect manger for an NL team with 17 first-time All-Stars because he is a first-timer himself. "It's going to feel good seeing them all on the field, because they're all deserving."
Some of them are charismatic -- can't-miss prospects coming into prominence for the first time. Some of them are more like Charismatic, the Kentucky Derby winner -- former claimers now playing on their sport's biggest stage.
Either way, they're here, and they're going to enjoy themselves while they can.
Also honored for the first time are National Leaguers Kent Bottenfield, Paul Byrd, Mike Hampton, Jose Lima, Kevin Millwood, Billy Wagner, Mike Lieberthal, Dave Nilsson, Sean Casey, Alex Gonzalez, Jeff Kent, Ed Sprague, Jeromy Burnitz, Luis Gonzalez, Vladimir Guerrero and Brian Jordan. AL first-timers are Zimmerman, Ausmus, Ron Coomer, John Jaha, Green, Magglio Ordonez and B.J. Surhoff.
"Maybe it's time for some new guys to step in," said Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, who has been to 15 All-Star games but was replaced by Burnitz in the starting lineup because of an injury.
"I'm looking forward to seeing them in the clubhouse, to see the excitement in their faces. I remember my first game, in '84. You think, 'Wow, this is great.' It sticks with you."
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who leads an AL squad with seven first-timers, said he'll make a special effort to get them all in the game. "I love looking at their faces when they walk into the clubhouse and see their names up on the lockers," he said.
But the players aren't all wide-eyed and star-struck. Some of them, like Surhoff and Sprague, have been around quite a while but never put everything together all at the right time in order to impress the fans or All-Star managers. Others are trying to act cool about sharing a clubhouse with future Hall of Famers like McGwire and Ripken.
"I'm in awe of their abilities. But am I intimidated by it? No," said Bottenfield, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher. "We're all baseball players here."
Jaha went to spring training this year trying to earn a spot on the team. He earned one all right -- on the All-Star team.
"To even think about an All-Star game was way out of reach for me at the time. ... I don't know if I belong here with these players who have been here through the years," said Jaha, who didn't make the Oakland roster until the last day of camp. "I've been battling some things in my career. To be here at 33 makes it even more special."
Zimmerman had dropped out of baseball and received his M.B.A. in 1996. But when the corporate world didn't bite, he retooled his resume and sent a copy to all 30 major league teams. Only Texas was interested.
"After three or four months, I realized I love baseball too much to give it up. I'm just glad it wasn't too late," he said. "... I've played at the lowest levels. Now I'm playing at the highest level. So I guess I have a different perspective."
Kent acknowledged that some of his teammates aren't household names. But he predicted that they will be soon.
"The names that are here at the All-Star game are the names that people should remember," the San Francisco Giants second baseman said. "They're going to be here year after year."
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