MLB: Old-Timers find room in young man's All-Star game
New York • Bartolo Colon can laugh now, recalling his first All-Star experience.
Right after unleashing a 100 mph fastball to Mark McGwire, the Cleveland flame-thrower got his comeuppance: Barry Bonds tagged him for a home run estimated at 451 feet, a real crowd pleaser at Coors Field.
"It hit a sign with a San Francisco logo. It was funny," Colon said Monday through a translator.
That was 1998, during his first full season when he was part of baseball's new breed. Now, at 40, the Oakland pitcher is older than some players who take part in Old-Timers' events.
Yet even though Tuesday night's All-Star game is for the young, there's still a place at Citi Field for the guys sporting a bit of gray.
Mariano Rivera remains major league royalty, sought out by teammates and opponents alike this week to pose for a picture or provide a word of wisdom before he retires at age 43.
"Definitely, it's special, but I'm treating it like the other ones," the New York Yankees closer said. "The only difference is next year I won't be here."
Which is why A's closer Grant Balfour wanted to cling close to Rivera.
"Just to be here in his last All-Star game and be in the bullpen, I mean, I'm stoked," Balfour said. "It's my first one, and I think, 'What better timing than to have it when he's in his last one and be here in New York.'"
Boston designated hitter David Ortiz is starting at 37, St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran is in the lineup at 36. Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter turns 38 later this week.
Heck, Washington manager Davey Johnson is coaching on the NL side at 70.
Johnson gets a good look on a daily basis at one of the game's brightest young talents, 20-year-old Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. From Mike Trout to Manny Machado to Jose Fernandez, baseball is filled with emerging stars.
Put it this way: Mets ace Matt Harvey, who will start the All-Star game in his own ballpark at 24, is only the 12th-youngest player selected for the event.
"I think there are more good, young athletes who are playing baseball," Johnson said. "I think it's good for baseball to see all this good, young, healthy talent coming up. You can see it on every ballclub."
Johnson played at a time when many of baseball's greats were winding down. Baltimore teammate Brooks Robinson and fellow future Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline were closing out their careers.
That said, Johnson sees a spot for players slightly beyond rookie status.
"It's good to have veteran leadership, to be able to show the younger players how to do it on and off the field, especially on the road," he said. "But that leadership means a player still has to be producing."
For some former All-Star perennials Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez it remains to be seen whether they can make a contribution in the majors in the second half.
At 21, Machado soaked up the camaraderie in the AL clubhouse.
"Just seeing these guys, they're in their 10th, 11th All-Star game and they're still here enjoying it like it's their first one. It's something that, you know, you learn from that. You take it into consideration and enjoy every moment of it," the Baltimore third baseman said.
"It's been awesome, showing up here and seeing all the guys this morning ... kind of hit me, 'Wow, you're here in the All-Star game," he said. "When you walk into the locker room, you see all these future Hall of Famers in there next to your locker, you've just got to step back and take a breath and just enjoy every moment of it."
Harper readily compliments those who came before him.
"Pete Rose, George Brett, Mickey Mantle, they all helped make the game what it is," he said.
As for his earlier All-Star memory, Harper pointed to Cal Ripken's home run in 2001 in his final appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
"I'm not even sure I was born when that happened," Harper said, laughing. "But I've seen it a lot on the highlights over the years."
The year after the Ripken homer, Hunter punctuated his first All-Star appearance by climbing the wall at Miller Park and robbing Bonds of a home run. Bonds playfully hoisted Hunter over his shoulder after the grab.
Whatever happens Tuesday night a record 39 players are first-time selections and beyond, Hunter had a piece of advice for newcomers and vets alike.
"Savor it," he said. "The years go by in a blur. You think it's going to last forever and then, just like that, it's gone."