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McLemore, Thomas look forward to the All-Star Game

KANSAS CITY -- Not since 1985 have the folks around Kansas City been so excited about a baseball bash.

You have to understand that 1985 culminated in the ultimate -- a World Series victory for the Royals over the St. Louis Cardinals. But that was 27 years ago. Time for another big event.

Welcome to the 2012 All-Star Game, a huge rodeo for the place that some residents fondly call Cowtown. Time for even dudes to kick up their heels at this hoedown.

The best players of the American League and National League will clash for the third time on Kansas City soil. The first game came in 1960 at old Municipal Stadium, 22nd St. and Brooklyn Ave., when the Kansas City Athletics played host. The second game was in 1973 at what was then called Royals Stadium and is now Kauffman Stadium, where the first pitch will be thrown tonight.

TV coverage of the Midsummer Classic begins at 7:30 ET on FOX.

The National League won both previous games in KC. The stakes are higher now; the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. There's no doubting the allegiance of Royals president Dan Glass.

"Whatever it takes for the American League to win," he said. "We want the American League to win."

The AL will start that pursuit with Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander on the mound, it was announced at a news conference on Monday. Verlander is slotted to pitch the first two innings, followed by David Price and Jered Weaver.

Verlander got right into the spirit of things.

"Actually, I'm sitting here just looking over the lineup thinking about how I'm going to pitch these guys," Verlander said. "You know, got to get ready."

The NL will counter with Giants right-hander Matt Cain, author of a perfect game this season. He'll have his regular catcher, Buster Posey, calling his pitches.

"It's going to be really, really cool to be able to have Buster behind the plate catching me," Cain said. "Hopefully we can get into a groove, and I'm really, really excited about everything."

When Verlander delivers the first pitch to the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez on tonight, it'll mark the culmination of a long effort by the Royals.

The Glass family, headed by longtime Walmart executive David Glass, secured the 83rd All-Star Game after years of consultation with Commissioner Bud Selig and the necessary renovation of Kauffman Stadium that was completed two years ago. The trademark fountain spectacular remains but the rest of the ballpark was extensively revamped specifically with this game in mind.

"It's a special feeling knowing how well our fans have embraced this event," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "We felt all along that the Royals fans would do just that. I credit David and Dan Glass for their vision and their aggressive, persistent approach in doing their part to make sure Kansas City received this event because they knew how well our fans would embrace this. It means a lot to the economy but it means so much to the fans. It's neat to see so many young people enjoying and celebrating the game of baseball."

Fortunately for those sitting in the stands, the boiling Kansas City weather of the past few days -- the temperature reached 106 on Saturday -- is easing up just in time. The forecast is for a high of 87 and a low of 66.

By tonight, the FanFest, Futures Game, Red Carpet Parade, Home Run Derby and the myriad of attendant events will be pleasant memories as the fans settle in to savor the skills of Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and other giants of the game.

Are you a fan of home runs? Hamilton and Jose Bautista each bring 27 to Kansas City. Big averages? Check out Andrew McCutchen's .362 or Melky Cabrera's .353. Considering that Kauffman Stadium has largest square footage in baseball, perhaps a gap-finder like Votto (35 doubles) will have an effect.

For pitching victories, R. A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez come to town toting 12-win loads. Strikeouts? Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander bring bags of 128 from different leagues. Saves? Jim Johnson has piled up 26. In the ERA department, it's hard to top Jered Weaver's 1.96.

Clearly these are the class of the game's classiest stars.

For Kansas City fans, the Royals have their own basher, Billy Butler, on the AL squad. He can clue in teammates on hitting at Kauffman; he has a .314 career line on his home ground.

The players cross the age range from Dickey's 37, born Oct. 29, 1974, in Nashville, Tenn., to Bryce Harper's 19, born nearly 18 years later on Oct. 16, 1992, in Las Vegas. The Nationals' rookie outfielder is the youngest position player ever in an All-Star Game and the third youngest overall, behind pitchers Dwight Gooden (in 1984) and Bob Feller (in 1938).

The managers are Tony La Russa, retired from the Cardinals but qualified to guide the National League by virtue his World Series victory over the Rangers' Ron Washington, the American League's pilot.

Both men have links to Kansas City. La Russa first wore a Major League uniform as a rookie infielder in KC.

"There's an amazing coincidence, because I started -- we don't even talk about my playing career -- here when I was 18 years old in 1963 [with the] Kansas City A's," La Russa said, "And to think the last time I'm going to put on a uniform is going to be in Kansas City is just an unbelievable coincidence."

Washington began his pro baseball career with the first class of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy, conceived by franchise founder Ewing Kauffman in 1971 to develop and educate promising young athletes as baseball players.

"It's always been a sentimental feeling in my heart each time I return to Kansas City, because this is where I started," Washington said. "I learned my baseball on the chalkboard. We would chalk it out on the board, and we would go out on the field and work it out until we got it right. ... I just wish Mr. Kauffman was around to see it, because the Academy was his brainstorm. There were not very many people that believed it could work. I'm just happy that I'm an example that it can work."

The stage is set in a city known for barbecue at Arthur Bryant's and countless other places, Harry Truman, the National World War I Museum, the Country Club Plaza, George Brett, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O'Neil. Casey Stengel was born in Kansas City, Satchel Paige is buried here. Jackie Robinson played here before breaking the color line.

When this stadium's first year was marked by the All-Star Game 40 seasons ago in 1973, Johnny Bench clouted what is called the longest home run in the ballpark's history. It sailed over the left-field concession stand for an estimated 480 feet in the NL's 7-1 win.

There has been no All-Star Game in KC since although Royals have made their mark over the years, possibly none so famously as Bo Jackson in 1989 at Anaheim where he led off the game with a whopper home run, stole a base and made a running catch. He was the MVP in the AL's 5-3 victory.

When the AL ended its 11-year losing streak in 1983, Brett went 2-for-4 with a triple, double and RBI and Willie Wilson contributed an RBI double in the 50th anniversary game at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Frank White's pinch-hit home run accounted for the winning run in the AL's 3-2 win at Houston's Astrodome in 1986. That victory was directed by Royals manager Dick Howser who, shortly after that game, was diagnosed with the brain cancer that would take his life.

Bret Saberhagen got credit for the AL's 2-0 victory in 1990 at Chicago's Wrigley Field after pitching two scoreless innings. Jose Rosado picked up the 3-1 win at Cleveland in 1997 but, in an odd way. After giving up a score-tying home run Rosado pitched a scoreless inning and the AL went ahead.

Now, though, the Midsummer Classic has returned.

Dan Glass said having the spotlight on Kauffman Stadium will allow more fans to appreciate what has been a fact of life recently -- people come from all over to see the renovated stadium and like what they see.

"We've seen, since our renovation, whatever team that our team is playing, there is a higher percentage of their fans showing up," Glass said. "There is no doubt about that. A lot of it is because it is affordable for them; our ticket prices here are affordable, travel is affordable to get here, hotel and so forth. Once they are here, they love the stadium. They love the renovations, they love what we have done here, so it's a nice compliment."

Tonight, fans all over the world will get a closer look at the All-Star city.

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