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Published: Thursday, 7/13/2006

All-Stars have a blast, happy to be on the field

They all wanted to be here. Every one of them.

To see, and to be seen.

Last night's ProMedica Health System All-Star Game at Fifth Third Field highlighted the cream of the Triple-A baseball crop. Everybody who was anybody in minor-league baseball was in Toledo.

And everybody who played had a blast.

It was neat watching some of baseball's up-and-coming players provide a sneak preview of their talents for an appreciative and excited sellout crowd.

It was even better watching players who were honored to be honored, who relished every moment and didn't take this unique opportunity for granted.

"Many of these guys are on the threshold of going to the major leagues. It's a wonderful thing for them to gather here," said ESPN's Buck Martinez, a former major league player and manager who was the television analyst for last night's game.

"They take an awful lot of pride in stepping on the field as all-stars," Martinez said. "Many of them will never play in another all-star game. Even if they become stars, you never know if you're going to be an all-star or not. So you have to take the opportunity and enjoy it."

It was all sunshine and smiles (even amid cloudy skies) as the International League - featuring four Mud Hens players managed by Larry Parrish - defeated the Pacific Coast League 6-0 before 11,300 fans.

Most of the Triple-A All-Stars, who are one level removed from the majors, are still too young to be jaded, or bored by it all.

In fact, many of them are still too young to know any better.

All they know is what they believe, and what they believe is that playing baseball for fun - and funds - is as good as it gets.

"There was a lot of energy out there," said 23-year-old International League All-Star Josh Fields of the Charlotte Knights. "The fans coming out and supporting us, and Toledo doing such a great job of running this whole thing added to this game.

"Of course, it's going to make your heart pump just a little bit more."

There were no agendas or

attitudes from players who may have preferred to gain valuable rest during the All-Star break while preparing for the second half of the season.

No one complained that they would have been better served missing the game because of a nagging injury.

Fans at Fifth Third Field ate up the fact they were watching talented young players on the rise.

They cheered and clamored for autographs as if the players were big-time superstars, instead of kids still finding their way to the big leagues. Both sides were good for each other.

The fans were able to reach out and touch some of baseball's brightest stars of the future.

The players responded by displaying a level of appreciation not always associated with professional athletes.

"They were yelling for some of their favorite players, maybe a guy they voted for to be here, and I think that's really cool," said Pacific Coast League All-Star Stephen Drew of the Tucson Sidewinders, who is 23. "Without a doubt, the all-star game is for the fans. You want to showcase your skills, go out and have fun with guys you don't play with throughout the year. The fans want to see everybody having fun and making good plays. Everybody on the field has talent, that's what they're here to see."

Even better for players and fans, the best is yet to come.

Contact Blade columnist

John Harris at:

jharris@theblade.com

or 419-724-6354.



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