As always, there will be some great stories to keep my interest when the 80th All-Star game is played tonight:
- Where does Albert Pujols rank among the all-time greats? Tonight, he plays in his 8th All-Star game, but first in front of his hometown St. Louis fans. Tell your kids they are watching one of greatest pure hitters ever.
- Less than four years ago, Hunter Pence was called up to the High-A Salem Avalanche, the Houston Astros' then-affiliate in the Carolina League. I probably saw him play six or seven games that summer. There are some guys who just look like Major Leaguers. It was obvious watching his skills and the way he handled himself that he was on the fast track for the Major Leagues. By 2007, he was in the Show and in 2009 he is an All-Star.
- Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay. This is the best match up of starting pitchers since the AL sent Roger Clemens to the mound against the NL's Randy Johnson. Halladay looks like he is on the way to a Hall of Fame career and Lincecum's first two years in the Majors are among the best entrance of any pitcher in recent memory.
- Pitcher Tim Wakefield will make his All-Star debut at the age of 42! Only the legendary Satchel Paige was older in his first All-Star game (46), but he the color line prevented him from reaching the Show until he was 42. Wakefield is not only a great story for his perseverance, but he is another former Salem minor leaguer. He started his minor league career as a shortstop, but was moved to the mound full-time in Salem in 1990.
- How about two more former Salem Avalanche players in the All-Star game? AL reserve Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays played in Salem when he was in the Houston organization. Colorado Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe was a star outfielder with the Avalanche when they were affiliated with the Rockies.
- Normally, I would be critical of the fan election of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton because his 2009 numbers are clearly undeserving. However, this is a special case. Hamilton's breakthrough season in 2008 was great in baseball terms, but the inspirational story of how he fought battles with addiction on the way to that great season struck a nerve which made him more than a ballplayer. He has fought injuries for much of this season, but I would love to see him make a big play in tonight's game.
- The 1971 All-Star game featured 20 future Hall of Famers. In 1967, 22 future enshrinees were on the All-Star rosters. This year's game may not yield that bounty of greatness, but there are some surefire future Hall of Famers in this game: Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Pujols, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman have already punched their tickets to Cooperstown. Halladay and Johan Santana seem to be on the way. Which young stars will join the all-time elites and which will fall short? Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, David Wright, and Hanley Ramirez are all off to impressive starts. Who will be the Hall of Famers out of that group?
- One thing I would like to see: all-time greats should be included on All-Star rosters regardless of their season stats. I don't know how to set it up objectively, but if I were commissioner I would place Ken Griffey Jr. on the AL roster and Randy Johnson (though he is injured) on the NL roster. Who would you rather see in the 9th inning? Zach Duke pitching to Adam Jones or the Big Unit staring down Junior?
I think I'm going to go through my complete set of 1973 Topps baseball cards while watching the game tonight.