Bronx visit a maiden voyage for many
ASG to be several NL players' first, possibly last, Cathedral visit
NEW YORK -- One month ago, most of the San Diego Padres lineup hugged the padded railing in front of the visiting dugout, embracing a beautiful June afternoon and -- as it later turned out -- soaking up the ambiance of Yankee Stadium, knowing that this might be their final time in the building.
Tuesday's All-Star Game in the Bronx brings the opportunity for all of Major League Baseball to embrace the game's cathedral, and also a chance for some National League players who -- for one reason or another -- have never made it into a game on its storied playing field.
The American Leaguers get the familiarity bonus, as every member of the roster has at least had the opportunity to enter one regular season contest already in the building.
Interleague Play hasn't afforded the same chances to all of the Senior Circuit players -- four members of the NL's starting lineup have never played in Yankee Stadium, as well as five hurlers on the pitching staff and three players on the bench.
Though this will be the first time Geovany Soto walks through the press gate and follows the red line to the visiting clubhouse, it won't be the Cubs rookie catcher's first trip to the House that Ruth Built.
Soto remembers going to a few games at Yankee Stadium as a fan with his father, especially when the Yankees were playing the Texas Rangers.
"My dad always liked to watch the Rangers -- Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, Julio Franco, Rafael Palmeiro," said the 25-year-old Soto, who needed a ticket for entry in the early 1990s. "That was my dad's team. We'd go and watch, and it was pretty exciting.
"[The All-Star Game] is going to be something special -- something else," Soto said. "It's going to be the most exciting All-Star Game. For me, it's going to be the greatest thing that ever happened. This being the last year at Yankee Stadium, being in the Bronx, a great baseball city, they're going to go all out."
The All-Star selection provides Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome a chance to fulfill a wish as he reaches the ceremonial halfway point of his first Major League season.
"I wanted to visit Yankee Stadium one time before it was torn down, and I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to do that in the All-Star Game," Fukudome said through interpreter Ryuji Araki.
Of the NL's starting nine, the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley have also not played in Yankee Stadium. Cubs right-hander Kerry Wood missed his chance in June 2005, when his team visited -- the right-hander was on the disabled list because of problems with his right shoulder.
"I'm looking forward to seeing it, and walking around and checking it all out and enjoying the atmosphere that will be there," Wood said. "There's a lot of history there as well."
He plans to take a peek at Monument Park -- checking in on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, etc. -- and trying to soak it all in.
"You go and travel on the road," Wood said, "and play at the nice new ballparks, and they're state of the art and everything, and home [at Wrigley Field] is here for me. But it will be nice to go to Yankee Stadium -- I've never been there, and have only seen it on TV. I'm looking forward to it."
Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum will be looking for a better New York showing than he experienced last week across town, when the Mets handed the flamethrower his first loss in an astonishing 13 starts. Lincecum said that his Shea Stadium outing had been an off night, but he is expecting the atmosphere to be completely different once the lights turn on at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.
"I think it's a bigger deal because it's going to be the last year that Yankee Stadium's there," Lincecum said. "Emotions will kind of take over."
In 2006, a sore right hamstring prevented Florida Marlins infielder Dan Uggla from playing in an Interleague series in New York. Now, Uggla is recovering from a sprained left ankle that he suffered on June 28, but the slugger still expects to be ready for the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday, perhaps taking aim at the same left-center-field gap where DiMaggio and Mantle used to race down fly balls and avoid the monuments in play.
"It's exciting," Uggla said. "There is only one Yankee Stadium. There is all the history. I didn't get to play there, but I walked around. I saw the monuments. It's a great place to play."
The Los Angeles Dodgers will remain the only current franchise to never play a regular season game at the current Yankee Stadium. Catcher Russell Martin, a reserve for the NL squad, can remember watching the images of Yankee Stadium flicker across his television screen growing up.
The Bronx meant October baseball for the 25-year-old Martin, and he already has a pretty good idea of what to expect even before he sets foot in the building.
"It has a lot of history," Martin said. "Growing up, I watched a lot of postseason games played there. It's a place I always wanted to play and never thought I'd have a chance. The fans are so intense, it's always really loud. It's a great baseball environment."
The Colorado Rockies' Aaron Cook plus the Brewers' Ben Sheets and Corey Hart will also be among those experiencing E. 161st Street and River Avenue for the first time.
Some players were revved up to play in Yankee Stadium for other reasons. San Francisco Giants right-hander Brian Wilson, born in New Hampshire, grew up as a Red Sox fan and dreamed of going to Yankee Stadium and pitching against the Yankees.
Though he said he doesn't get caught up in individual stadiums, Wilson said he has talked to big league buddies who have already made it to the center of the Stadium.
"They said it's a one-of-a-kind experience, stepping on the mound with the aura and history there, and the crowd and the intensity," Wilson said. "I'm kind of excited to [throw] a few pitches there. It'll be cool since this is the last year to say, 'I did it.'"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.