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Chicago Sun-Times

A World Of Difference For Baseball; International Flavor Adds To All-Star Game Appeal

July 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Chicago Sun-Times, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

When Lefty Gomez faced Pepper Martin to begin baseball's first All-Star Game in July 1933 at old Comiskey Park, no one could envision the cultural changes the sport would witness in the next 70 years.

Men wore suits, ties and top hats to the game. The St. Louis Cardinals were the only major league team west of Chicago. Baseball was segregated. In August 1933, future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson played in the first Negro League All-Star Game at Comiskey Park.

Things change.

Men will wear topsiders and carry cell phones into the 74th All- Star Game on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. The midsummer classic features players from Japan (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui), the Dominican Republic (Alfonso Soriano, Albert Pujols), Puerto Rico (Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell), Mexico (Esteban Loaiza) and Tennessee (Todd Helton; just kidding, Todd).

Chicago's international flavor makes it a prime locale for all things all-star. Baseball nation will be exploring the Asian cuisine of Sai Cafe, 2010 N. Sheffield, the Mexican offerings at Adobo Grill, 1610 N. Wells, the Cuban fare at Cafe Bolero, 2252 N. Western, and the everyman's mecca, Harry Caray's Restaurant, 33 W. Kinzie. On Monday and Tuesday, Harry Caray's will serve a 33-ounce prime aged center-cut Porterhouse steak ($57) in tribute to the 1933 birthdate of the all-star game. Commemorative Harry Caray All-Star drinking glasses will be available through Tuesday.

Harry's partner in crime, Bill Veeck, wasn't going to attend the '83 All-Star Game when it returned to Comiskey, because he was "not very thrilled with the people who bought the ball club," according to Joe Goddard's 1983 notes in the Sun-Times. But Wild Bill changed his mind at the last minute. Veeck's spirit permeates all things fun about this year's event.

One of the cultural mind-benders of the '83 game was an appearance by Morganna "The Kissing Bandit" Roberts, who vaulted the left field fence in the first inning, no doubt eyeing American League third baseman George Brett. Thanks for the mammaries, Morganna.

The All-Star Game was held at Wrigley Field in 1947, 1962 and in 1990, which may be one of the most boring games on record. At that game, big things were expected by Cuban Jose Canseco, who made his only Wrigley Field appearance as a member of the Oakland A's. Canseco went 0 for 4 as the American League won 2-0.

This season, foreign-born players make up more than 28 percent of major league rosters and nearly 50 percent of major and minor league rosters combined. Major League Baseball International produces its own All-Star Game telecast that will be distributed to more than 200 countries. Maybe another 70 years from now, the All-Star Game will have a World Cup format.

"The All-Star Game is just one tool in the tool chest of how we try to market the game internationally," says Jim Small, vice president of market development for Major League Baseball. "This year is an exceptional year because of the amount of international players and who those international players are. Two Japanese players [Ichiro and Matsui] [will] start the All-Star Game. That will have a tremendous impact for us in Japan. About 30 big-screen television will be installed all around Tokyo for outdoor viewing."

I attended the '83 and '90 All-Star games in Chicago and last year's All-Star Game in Milwaukee. I still don't understand all the fuss about last year's game ending in a tie. I had a blast. It was more exciting than the '83 and '90 games, and I'll never forget Torii Hunter's catch in center field.


My favorite All-Star event is the Futures Game at 4 p.m. Sunday-- a great stage for emerging international talent. Anybody can get into this game. I picked up a $30 bleacher seat at U.S. Cellular Field during the Cubs-Sox series. Tickets remained available at press time.

In the Futures Game, a U.S. Team of minor leaguers plays against a World Team of minor leaguers in a game that ends after seven innings regardless of the score. As major league attendance dropped in April, minor league teams attracted 5.7 million fans, the highest total in the 102-year history of organized baseball. People like minor league ball because the accessibility and innocence makes them feel they have reclaimed the game.

Last year at Milwaukee, I saw the Cubs' Hee Seop Choi (who struck out twice), the White Sox's Joe Borchard (who struck out three times), current Tampa Bay Devil Ray Carl Crawford and current New York Mets phenom Jose Reyes, who was the game's MVP.

White Sox/Red Sox Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk will manage this year's U.S. Team and Cuban legend Tony Oliva will manage the World Team. The U.S. roster includes Tigers pitching prospect Preston Larrison, a native of Aurora, and left-handed relief pitcher Royce Ring, whom the White Sox gave up in the Roberto Alomar trade.

World Team notables include my favorite minor leaguer, Felix Pie, the 18-year-old Dominican center fielder for the Cubs' Lansing Lugnuts Class A team, Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan and Expos pitcher Seung Song ("Blue"?), a South Korean who struck out two of three batters in last year's Futures Game.

The Futures Game is followed by a 7 p.m. All-Star Legends/ Celebrity Softball Game. Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers, Dave Winfield and Gary Carter are slated to play in the softball game, as well as Ice Cube, Jimmy Kimmel, NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, ex-Bear Jim McMahon and ex-White Sox pitcher and current rock singer Jack McDowell.

Monday's Home Run Derby and All-Star Workout are sold out, but fans can still catch the All-Star buzz at 9 p.m. Monday when Budweiser, Major League Baseball and Q-101FM present the alt-rock band Live at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn (312-923-2000). Live is best known for the hit "I, Alone," the mantra of several major league baseball prima donnas. Also, the Outfield performs at 10 p.m. tonight at Joe's, 940 W. Weed (312-337-3486).

Put me in coach. I'm ready to play.

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