2006 All-Star Weekend Photo Gallery
A Midsummer Classic by Michael Aubrecht

July 14, 2006: This past weekend I had the pleasure of returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to spend some time with the family and attend several of the events surrounding the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which was returning to the 'burg for the 5th time. My mother in-law was gracious enough to get 4 tickets to the All-Star Fan Fest, and my father was kind enough to take her, my son, and myself to the event.

Despite the fact that my career has taken a different path over the last few years, my beginnings will always be rooted in baseball history. For six seasons now [2000-2006], I have been responsible for researching and documenting the complete histories of the All-Star Game, World Series, and Years In Review for Baseball-Almanac. During my tenure as a contributing historian, I have recapped every game and every season in these categories (over 400) and it is where I ultimately got my start as a professional. [You can still view most of these published essays via my Baseball Studies page.]

In addition, I have penned mini-bios of every MLB Commissioner, and I also accept the occasional invitation to write about an owner, player, or team for various baseball fanzines and newsletters. This year, I was asked to author the Introduction to UK sports-author John White's "Baseball Miscellany." HOF'er Rod Carew did the Foreword.

As a fan, I try to watch as many New York Yankees games as my wife will let me during the regular season, and if the Bronx Bombers go the distance, don't expect to reach me anytime during the playoffs. Simply stated, I am a lifelong baseball junkie who jumped at the opportunity to head back to the homestead after hearing that "THE Greatest Show on Earth" was coming to town.

First, let me say this… I spent the first 22 years of my life growing up in the "Steel City" and if there is one thing you can say about this gritty, blue-collar metropolis, it really cleans up nice. Granted there was national media attention that was the driving force behind it, but Pittsburgh spared no expense on the festivities and went all-out when hosting the 77th Midsummer Classic. They had huge baseball-themed banners hanging from the building tops, and several of the bridges were closed so they could be used for street festivals. Huge inflatable baseballs floated in the river, and the entire area around PNC Park was filled with vendors, entertainers, and fan activities. (They even collected all the homeless and put them up in some decent digs for the week. I suspect they got the boot though when the last ESPN truck pulled away.)

Fan Fest is a magnificent baseball convention where you can see, hear, touch, and buy anything and everything related to America's National Pastime. Picture a Circus on steroids (no pun intended) with players instead of animals, memorabilia instead of balloons, and interactive exhibits instead of clowns. It is Major League Baseball's version of "Heaven on Earth" so-to-speak, and a rare opportunity to try things that you only dreamed of doing as a kid. Want to bat against a "virtual" Roger Clemens? Or get your very own baseball card made? How about meeting some Hall of Famers? Or bid on Babe Ruth's bat? Like Trivia? Enter the "fanatic challenge" or play "trivia" ball indoors on an authentic diamond. What about memorabilia? See Satchel Paige's locker, Lou Gehrig's jersey or Hank Aaron's batting helmet. It was almost too much for this lifelong die-hard to take in - but I tried it all - and more.

Sharing the experience with my son was also special, as he has only recently begun showing an interest in his "old man's" sport. My personal highlight of the convention was getting our own baseball cards made. He was photographed as an Anaheim Angel, and I (of course) was a New York Yankee. Both of us were "Designated Hitters," but I think my stats may have been a tad better than his. Another favorite moment was being photographed in front of the World's Largest Baseball. I took a hundred-or-so photos myself and at the end of the day, I felt the same type of awe that I often experience when leaving a battlefield.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Fan Fest, or Home Run Derby, or if you are one of the few that can score tickets to the actual All-Star Game, DO IT. The experience will be one that you will not soon forget. You will feel like a kid, but appreciate it like an adult. And that, to me, is exactly what the game of baseball is all about.

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Game recap written for, Copyright 2006

In 2006, the Midsummer Classic returned to the city of Pittsburgh for the fifth time in its 77-year incarnation. After being held at the pastoral Forbes Field (twice) and in the "behemoth bowl" known as Three Rivers Stadium (twice), the All-Stars traveled "back in time" to one of the newest additions to the Steel City's skyline, PNC Park. Recalling the glory days of old-time baseball, the retro-designed ballpark provided a perfect stage for showcasing the modern game's best players. In addition, the National Football League's reigning "City of Champions" spared no expense when hosting the Major League Baseball event despite the fact that the hometown Pirates were experiencing one of the worst seasons in recent memory. It was a worthwhile investment to say the least, as All-Star events lured an estimated 100,000 visitors to the city. Local officials estimated that the game was worth over $50 million to the economy in hotel rooms, restaurant tabs, parking, VIP parties and related galas.

For one week, a World Series-like atmosphere descended on the town, initiating a myriad of tributes to the memories of great ballplayers in black and gold including Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. In addition, the downtown area itself was transformed into a baseball lover's paradise. Huge baseball-themed banners were hung from the building tops. Several of the city's famous bridges were closed for street carnivals. Huge inflatable baseballs floated in the nearby river and the entire area around PNC Park was filled with vendors, entertainers and fan activities. A recent addition to the summer celebration known as "Fan Fest" occupied the city's Convention Center and featured acres of Major League attractions for fans of all ages. Bridging the gap between baseball's yesterdays and today, "Fan Fest" featured everything from "The Bambino's" bat to a virtual reality game in which participants went up against "The Big Unit."

The game itself could not have come at a better time, as the baseball world was in the middle of one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in recent memory. Following the international acclaim of the World Baseball Classic, the first leg of the Major League's marathon included a phenomenal Detroit Tigers team that was running away with the American League Central, the second "un-retirement" of Houston Astros ace (and future Hall Of Famer) Roger Clemens, and the highly-contested run by Giant's slugger Barry Bonds toward Hank Aaron's homerun title. This came in the third year of historical upsets, accolades and mishaps, the most startling of which were the championship seasons put together by the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, who had both broken their 80-plus year curses in back-to-back fashion. It was as if America had rediscovered its National Pastime and the enthusiasm surrounding the 2006 All-Star Game proved that baseball was definitely back!

On a humorous note, one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of baseball was briefly brought to life during the All-Star "Futures Game" as Dodgers prospect Chin Lung Hu (of the World Team) moved from shortstop to play first base. For one Sunday afternoon, Abbott & Costello's comedy routine rang true as the old question of "Who's on first?" finally made sense.

The National League was hoping to cash in on the recent unpredictability after falling short in eight of the last nine All Star contests (a tie was declared in 2002 when both teams ran out of pitchers). In fact, the last win tallied by the Senior Circuit was in Philadelphia in 1996, but things looked promising in '06, as the Nationals had historically run the table when playing in Pittsburgh. Adding to the pressure were the postseason implications of the game, which came after the institution of an "it counts" philosophy in 2003, granting home-field advantage in the World Series to the victor. Since then, the Americans had dominated the Fall Classic 2-1 as well as the regular season's inter-league play that was designed to provide the fans with some rare and exciting matchups.

In describing the previous year's 7-5 defeat, one reporter had written that, "There was no overstating how good the (American League) lineup was. It looked like it was drawn up, not by a manager, but by a higher power, an entity with even more sweeping powers than the Commissioner." Eager to get payback, the Nationals entered the contest boasting a strong line-up of "lumberjacks" including St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, Washington DC standout Alfonso Soriano and New York's David Wright, who had put on a tremendous first-round performance in the previous evening's Home Run Derby. After reaching the finals of Monday night's CENTURY 21 contest with 16 "jacks," Wright was finally cut down to size (5-4) by All-Star teammate Ryan Howard of the Phillies, in an all-NL East showdown.

On the mound, NL fans had elected several pitchers to their first All-Star appearance including Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo and Arizona's Brandon Webb, while others voted for the "old-timers" including New York's Tom Glavine, who decided not to participate in what would have been his 10th game. Skipper Phil Garner, a former Pittsburgh Pirate, was fully aware of the talent around him and was shown in the clubhouse (prior to the game) telling his players to simply "do what they do best" in lieu of signs.

In the American League clubhouse, the outspoken and at times, unstoppable Ozzie Guillen was also holding a lineup card filled with some big names. At the plate, Seattle superstar Ichiro Suzuki and Anaheim's own guardian angel, Vladimir Guerrero, joined Boston's "Big Papi" David Ortiz on the offensive side, while Detroit ace Kenny Rogers, Chicago standout Mark Buehrle and Toronto's Roy Halladay topped the list of AL starters. Backing them up was one of the most stacked bullpens in the game, led by perennial All-Star and postseason standout Mariano Rivera.

Paying tribute to "The Family," Pittsburgh's World Series Champions, during the pregame festivities, Pirate fans were treated to a reunion on the mound that was highlighted by the ceremonial first pitch, courtesy of Bucco manager Chuck Tanner. As the 77 year-old skipper stepped to the mound, he was greeted by some familiar All-Stars from the 1979 team that included Kent Tekulve, Bill Madlock, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Parker and Phil Garner.

It was reported that as manager of the National League team, "Mr. Garner got permission from Major League Baseball to have his former mentor serve as honorary bench coach. To the disco tune "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge, the six men mugged for pictures and the former players, all former All-Stars, autographed the ball Mr. Tanner chucked left-handed to the plate."

It was the first of many memorable tosses. Strangely, both pitching and hitting dominated the first (and last) few frames of the game, which appeared to have more moments of greatness on both ends, and a lot less in the middle. LA right-hander Brad Penny set the tone for the National League's staff after striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, with nothing but blazing fastballs. Registering on the radar at 99 mph, Penny's only mistake came in the second inning when Vladimir Guerrero launched a 356-foot opposite-field shot to right field that opened the scoring.

David Wright of the Mets answered Guerrero's blast with a solo homerun of his own and his teammates followed suit by taking advantage of their speed, while running on Detroit's 11-time Golden Glove Award-winning catcher, Ivan Rodriguez. Alfonso Soriano contributed to the campaign by singling with one out and stealing second base. But he was thrown out at home plate (by Vernon Wells) after running through third base coach Jerry Narron's stop sign during Carlos Beltran's single. After reaching second himself, Beltran stole third and dashed home on a wild pitch by Roy Halladay.

For the next 6 2/3 innings, it appeared that the National League had returned to its roots and was edging closer to ending its long All-Star Game drought by relying on solid pitching, speed and "highlight-reel" worthy defense. Pittsburgh Pirate fans even had something to cheer about, after home team favorite Freddy Sanchez made a spectacular grab at shortstop to end the fifth inning. (Prior to the fifth, the game was momentarily halted so that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could present Vera Clemente, the widow of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, in honor of her late husband's achievements on and off the baseball diamond. It was a fitting tribute to one of Pittsburgh's (and baseball's) favorite sons.

Despite the initial scoring excitement in the second inning, both teams appeared to be at a stalemate. Nationals Roy Oswalt, Brandon Webb, Bronson Arroyo, Brian Fuentes, Derrick Turnbow and Tom Gordon each delivered scoreless innings of relief. On the American side, Halladay went two innings and Barry Zito, Scott Kazmir, Johan Santana and B.J. Ryan went one each to set up Rivera. They held the National lineup hitless in the final five innings.

Things appeared to be tipped in the National League's favor, that is, until the final inning, when the American League hitters came alive. Staked to a 2-1 lead in the ninth, Padres closer Trevor Hoffman quickly retired the first two batters that he faced on ground balls back to the mound. Both Hoffman's reputation and record (18 shy of Lee Smith's all-time save record of 478) spelled disaster, but things weren't quite over for the Americans yet. First, White Sox slugger Paul Konerko hit the first pitch that he saw, just to the left of NL third baseman Miguel Cabrera, to keep the AL's hopes alive. Then Troy Glaus nearly tied the game with a double to deep left field. But the ball bounced into the bleacher seats and pinch runner Jose Lopez was forced to hold steady at third. After getting ahead of Rangers shortstop Michael Young with two quick strikes, Hoffman surrendered a two-run triple that proved to be the National's deathblow.

The rest was left up to AL closer and Yankee phenom Mariano Rivera. The "Sandman" got Freddy Sanchez to ground out to third base for the first out, but Seattle's Jose Lopez couldn't handle his second opportunity, as the third baseman committed an error on a grounder hit by Carlos Beltran. Not to be shaken, Rivera got Home Run Derby champ Ryan Howard to ground out to second base. But Beltran moved from first to second, putting the tying run in scoring position. Unfortunately for NL fans, Milwaukee's Carlos Lee couldn't take advantage of the situation and popped out to Young at second base. The save was Rivera's third in the Midsummer Classic, tying him with Dennis Eckersley for the most in history.

As a result of his clutch hit in the ninth inning, Young was voted the "Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player" while joining Alfonso Soriano (2004) and Julio Franco (1990) as the third Texas Rangers player to be so honored. The loss dropped the NL record in All-Star Games to 0-9-1, and once again secured home field advantage for the American League for the fourth consecutive year. 77th All-Star Game: by Michael Aubrecht, contributing writer. 
Copyright 2006 / Pinstripe Press / All Rights Reserved




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