07/15/2003 8:02 PM ET
First-timers relish All-Star scene
Record-tying 30 players making debuts
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Aaron Boone remembers coming to the All-Star Game as a kid, when his dad Bob played in it. He had talked to his brother Bret about his experiences in the game showcasing baseball's elite.
But living the All-Star dream himself is something else entirely, as the Reds third baseman has found out in two whirlwind days at U.S. Cellular Field and around Chicago.
Boone is one of 30 first-time All-Stars this year, matching 1988 for the most ever in one Midsummer Classic. The difference he sees between tagging along with his dad and hearing about it from his brother is really more about making new friends than it is about baseball.
"The best thing is just being with these guys who are opponents all the time," Boone said Tuesday while suiting up for batting practice. "I've been with one team my whole career, and it's nice to get a chance to hang around with all these other guys for a few days, share some stories and have some fun."
For those 30 first-timers -- actually, 32 if you count injured National Leaguers Marcus Giles and Shawn Chacon -- these two days in Chicago have been a non-stop unique experience.
"I've tried to soak it all in, and I have," Boone said. "I'm a little tired, but that's all right. I'm loving every minute."
Maybe if Boone were 21 years old like Florida's Dontrelle Willis, he wouldn't feel so tired. Willis, the phenomenal left-hander who burst onto the scene in the first half after pitching in Double-A last year, has done his very best to take it all in.
"It's a dream come true," Willis said. "I take that back. I can't even dream something like this."
One of the highlights for Willis was the chance to meet Giants superstar Barry Bonds, whom he no doubt followed while growing up across the bay in Oakland.
"He shook my hand, said 'Congratulations' and gave me a hug," Willis said. "I didn't want to let go."
For Oakland's Mark Mulder, the fact that he's playing in the All-Star Game for the first time almost takes a back seat to the fact that the game's being played in his hometown of Chicago -- at his childhood team's home park, no less.
Following batting practice Tuesday, Mulder searched the field-level stands to find his dad, tossing a souvenir baseball up to someone who's just part of a big Mulder contingent at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's fun because I have a lot of friends and family here, and some of them already had tickets to the game," Mulder said. "They're probably more excited about it than I am. Not that I'm not, but they're just thrilled, and I think it's great."
Mulder had polled some of his A's teammates who'd been to the All-Star Game before, and Jermaine Dye told him all about the pace of things, not so much in the game but around the game.
"He said you're just so busy, there's always something going on, you're always moving," Mulder said. "He was pretty much right on. It feels like you always have to go do something."
First-timer Aaron Boone (left), seen here with grandfather Ray, brother Bret and father Bob, is enjoying his time in Chicago. (Mark Duncan/AP)
Russ Ortiz of the Braves has to agree about the pace.
"It's been two days, but it seems like it's gone by so quick," Ortiz said.
Ortiz has experienced a lot over the last year. He went to the Fall Classic last October. After being traded to the Braves, he's here at the Midsummer Classic.
"For me, it's totally different than anything I've experienced," Ortiz said. "That's what's great about it. It's unlike anything I've been a part of."
The overriding sentiment of the All-Star first-timers is it's a truly unique experience. But now they've done it, and they can get on with the rest of their careers -- which every one of them hopes will include another trip to the All-Star Game.
"Maybe this won't be my last time, and I can help some other guys out," Toronto's Vernon Wells said.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.