Originally created 07/09/02

All-Star 'rookies' enjoying their moment



MILWAUKEE -- Eddie Guardado, Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski walked into the grand ballroom Monday at the Pfister Hotel, looked around at the likes of A-Rod, Ichiro and Nomar, and suddenly felt very out of place.

The Minnesota teammates and All-Star first-timers felt like awe-struck kids - or youngsters watching television, at least.

"You ever watch 'Sesame Street'?" Guardado said. "I feel like I'm the thing that just ain't like the others. I feel like I'm the guy that just doesn't belong here."

They weren't the only ones who are wide-eyed.

There are 29 "rookies" at this year's All-Star game, including four starters: Hunter, Philadelphia's Scott Rolen, Boston's Shea Hillenbrand and the Yankees' Alfonso Soriano. That's the most since the 1988 game in Cincinnati.

AL manager Joe Torre said one of his biggest thrills is picking first-time All-Stars because he remembers his first time as if it was yesterday.

He was a backup catcher at the game in 1963, and he vividly recalls walking into the clubhouse at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, looking at the lockers and seeing the names of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax.

"It's pretty incredible, and for me it was a great experience for a kid who's 22, 23 years old at the time," Torre said. "And that's why when I sort of have a chance, with everything being equal, I like to go with first-timers. We've got 14 first-timers on the squad this year."

The National League did him one better, including Florida infielder Mike Lowell, who said he had to be just as excited as Torre was 39 years ago.

"I'm looking at Bonds, Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero in our outfield and it doesn't seem like I belong," Lowell said. "I'm taking this as a fan, to be honest.

"The game itself is the least thing that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to seeing the guys in batting practice, how they are in the clubhouse, the camaraderie"

Torre realizes a cynical public might not believe players making millions of dollars could get emotional about an exhibition.

"I know players make a lot of money and I know sometimes when you look at players, you don't think about the blood running through their bodies, it's just dollar signs," Torre said. "But that's not even close to being true, when you see the excitement of playing a game, knowing you're being honored as the best in all of baseball."

Hunter said he was enjoying everything about the experience, down to the crush of media.

"This is different for me. Coming up from the little small town of Pine Bluff, Ark., and the Minnesota Twins, we don't get that much pub anyway," he said.

Hunter said he was looking forward to meeting one man, in particular.

"I've never seen nor met Barry Bonds," he said before facing the San Francisco slugger in the Home Run Derby. "I'm excited to see how big he really is."

As with many other first-timers, Hunter made sure to bring along a camera, to get plenty of shots of Texas' Alex Rodriguez, Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, among others.

"Oh, you'd better believe it. I've got like five video cameras," he said. "I'm going to tape everybody. I want my grandkids to believe me when I get to talk to those guys later on in life."

Oakland left-hander Barry Zito didn't waste any time recording the memories. He took his camera to the media interview session at the hotel.

"I just love how everybody is so excited about the game. I'm going to the Home Run Derby tonight and be a fan myself," Zito said.

Brewers shortstop Jose Hernandez said he's nervous about his initial All-Star appearance even though the game is being played at Miller Park and he didn't have to move out of his regular locker.

"I've got butterflies," he said. "And they're going to keep flying through the introduction and probably right up until I get into the game."