Yankee Stadium evokes All-Star awe
Players excited to play in historic Bronx Midsummer Classic
NEW YORK -- Whether posed to a first-time All-Star, a perennial All-Star or a baseball lifer like Cubs manager Lou Piniella, the question evoked answers oozing with equal parts awe and excitement.
How does it feel to be a part of the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium?
The American League and National League's finest engaged wave after wave of reporters Monday in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, and that was -- by far -- the most frequently asked query.
Of course it was. The 79th All-Star Game on Tuesday will be the Midsummer Classic's formal farewell to the fabled old yard in the Bronx.
The House That Ruth Built will be but a fond memory next spring, while The House That Decades of Unparalleled Success Built will open for business on Opening Day 2009.
But first, virtually every living Hall of Famer will join the greats of today's game for what everyone is expecting to be a spectacular All-Star good-bye.
"It's possibly going to be the most historic one ever," said Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick. "We're talking about probably the most historic stadium ever -- in the world. And the biggest city in America. I think it's going to be unreal."
"The stage doesn't get any bigger, the lights don't get any brighter," said Ryan Braun of the Brewers. "It's going to be an extremely special event."
"An All-Star Game is always great, but you throw in the fact that it's at Yankee Stadium in its last year and that makes it that much better," offered Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth. "That's kind of a magical place when you're talking in terms of baseball."
Ludwick, Braun and McLouth are All-Star first-timers. Several players in Tuesday's game will be Yankee Stadium rookies.
They've never visited Monument Park, never heard the legendary voice of public-address announcer Bob Sheppard, never tried to pop a batting-practice pitch over the short porch in right field.
"Every player dreams about coming here," said Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. "I'm excited about everything, seeing the stadium fill up, seeing the flashing bulbs."
Players such as Uggla have sought the counsel of Yankee Stadium veterans, and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin has a great one at his disposal in Joe Torre. Now the manager in Los Angeles, Torre guided the Yankees to 10 AL East titles and four World Series victories -- six trips to the Fall Classic -- as their revered skipper from 1996-2007.
"Joe told me to be sure to go out to center field, to Monument Park, and take time to embrace it," Martin said. "It's my first time ever to Yankee Stadium, and I'm really looking forward to enjoying the whole experience. It's got so much history, so much to see and experience. I can't wait to meet some of the legends who can tell me all about it."
Monument Park is a legend itself. Tributes to Yankee greats such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Thurman Munson dot the grounds, and fans from all over the country make pilgrimages there to pay their respects. The 2008 All-Stars plan to do the same.
"Knowing the players who have played here before you, from Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it's a great honor [to be here]," White Sox third baseman Joe Crede explained. "This is an event where I'm going to get my family involved and my little girls, so that when they grow old, they can say they've been here and were able to experience the All-Star experience with me."
"It's just so historic," Rays lefty Scott Kazmir said. "You have so many legends that have played there. It's just an honor to step on the field."
Like Torre, Piniella is an NL manager with strong Yankee Stadium ties. Piniella played the last 11 years of his career in New York's pinstripes, and he started his managerial career with three seasons in the Bronx.
"I have a lot of great memories," said Piniella, a member of the NL All-Star coaching staff. "The players that I played with, the championships that we won, the old-timers games. It was great. It'll be bittersweet."
The current Yankees involved in Tuesday's game have similar sentiments.
"If I was a fan, I'd be coming to watch the players, but more importantly, I'd be coming to see the stadium one last time," offered third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
"This is something that's pretty special, all being here with a celebration of the last year of Yankee Stadium," said shortstop Derek Jeter. "This is the one All-Star Game that we all wanted to play in. This is the one I wanted to play in, the one I was looking forward to the most."
David Wright isn't a Yankee, but as a star third baseman for the Mets, he's equally appreciative of the history of the park.
"You talk about winning world championships, and you think of, obviously, the Yankees," Wright said. "You think of Yankee Stadium. It's a pleasure to be there, and it should be the star of the show. ... It's extremely special. I've said all along that I wanted to be part of this. I've made it no secret. I wanted to wear that National League uniform at Yankee Stadium.
"It's what you dream about, being a New York athlete. You want to be involved in an All-Star Game in New York at Yankee Stadium."
"It doesn't get any better," echoed Wright's Mets and NL teammate, Billy Wagner. "You're in the spotlight. This is the ultimate place to play, the biggest arena."
A-Rod called Yankee Stadium one of the "treasures of the world." Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek called it the "biggest star in our game -- besides Fenway." Said Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, "This isn't Arizona. This is Yankee Stadium."
It doesn't matter where you're from; if you know baseball, you know about this place.
"The best part for me is my Mom and Dad are coming, and they've never been to Yankee Stadium," said Angels righty Ervin Santana.
Rangers outfielder Milton Bradley said he'd have agreed to shine shoes just to be here. Giants righty Tim Lincecum said he didn't care if he got to play, either.
"There's definitely a lot of history in that stadium, and this game is going to be a part of that history," Lincecum explained. "So to be a part of it in any way is really cool."
How cool? Edinson Volquez probably summed it up best.
"This game Tuesday," said the Reds righty, "is going to be remembered forever."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.