By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2's Patrick Hruby is spending his All-Star break at … well, the All-Star Game. During the festivities in Detroit, he'll write about the sights and sounds from behind the scenes at the Midsummer Classic.

SUNDAY'S ENTRY

MONDAY'S ENTRY

Posted: Wednesday, 10:35 a.m. ET

ALL-STAR GAME, COMERICA PARK, Tuesday, July 12, 8:04 p.m., ET

I take my perch in the right-field bleachers. Out come the air cannons. Before player introductions get underway, perky youngsters are blasting T-shirts into the stands.

"There's really no limit to the fun you can have with CO2," quips an usher standing behind me.

Uh-oh. Like a basketball announcer praising a player's touch from the foul line -- which always results in a subsequent miss -- this qualifies as a seriously bad omen. On cue, a T-shirt drops from the sky like a lawn dart, striking a fan's crushed-ice beverage. Red slush sprays backwards, dousing two Detroit radio reporters.

Chairs. Computers. Media guides. Game notes. Dress shirts. Nothing escapes a sticky reckoning.

"The shirt was coming right toward me," says Jeff Wattrick, a reporter with WDET radio. "Then it hits his Slurpee."

Randy, the fan in question, claims he wasn't paying attention.

"I'm walking along here and I hear everyone yelling," he says. "I turn around and the thing hits me. I mean, last night we had our mitts on."

Randy points at WDET reporter Matthew McLean.

"Worst thing," Randy adds, "is that he didn't even catch it."

McLean wipes his collared shirt -- white, of course -- with a handful of paper napkins.

"I was working," he protests.

* * * * *

A stealth bomber flies over the stadium, probably to promote that upcoming Jamie Foxx-Jessica Biel flick. Maybe I'm mistaken.

* * * * *

Brian McKnight sings the National Anthem. True story: A few weeks back, McKnight, his son and a few buddies played basketball at my gym in D.C. The guy can shoot. And he's deceptively strong. On game point, I trapped him in the corner. McKnight dropped a shoulder into my solar plexus, then stuck a 3-pointer.

I tried to say "good game." Unfortunately, I couldn't quite breathe. I'm not making this up.

* * * * *

Abreu leads off with a line drive single to left. I think the home run champ has been drugged.

* * * * *

Bottom of the second. John Smoltz enters the game. Miguel Tejada rips his first pitch to deep left. Home run.

Guess Smoltz wasn't kidding about preferring to start.

* * * * *

In the top of the third, Johnny Damon snags an Albert Pujols fly ball to right center for the NL's third out. Out in the right-field bleachers, dozens of gloves go up.

Damon turns to the crowd, smacks the ball against his glove. No souvenirs. He spins and sprints to the dugout. What gives? Is a free ball too much to ask?

* * * * *

A few dozen fans stand on the street behind the center-field concourse, pushing against a line of yellow caution tape. From where they stand, they can look through the stadium's ironwork fence, catching a glimpse of … the cameras on the SportsCenter set.

Oh, and there's a beer company party tent across the street. I ask a crowd manager: What gives?

"You can see the scoreboard from there, the score and inning," he says. "If you're not inside, it's the next best thing."

Sure. Just like standing outside a movie theater to watch the electronic marquee change times is the next best thing to seeing a film.

* * * * *

On the other side of the SportCenter set overlooking right center, fans are yelling at Peter Gammons. Some heckle. Some scream, "You the man!"

Yes, they inform me, they've been drinking. Heavily.

* * * * *

Nice work if you can get it: Tigers internal auditor Scott Calka sits just above the AL bullpen, next to the tarp that reads "HIT IT HERE."

His job? Monitor the tarp. If a home run lands on it, one lucky fan wins a new car.

"It happened yesterday," he says. "Andruw Jones hit it. So there's always a chance."

Calka has been with the Tigers for 13 years. He started as a ball boy, labored in the mail room, was promoted to the ticket office.

Now he's within spitting distance of Kenny Rogers, who stretches on the bullpen grass.

"No one's really messing with him," Calka reports. "I'm kind of surprised. But we've got Kansas City coming in next. It won't be as pleasant down here."

* * * * *

On a concourse video monitor, Terry Francona appears to be making a telemarketing call on behalf of Major League Baseball. Oops. It's just an in-game interview.

* * * * *

I run into a beer vendor. How's business?

Slow.

Really? All I see are people drinking.

"Eight bucks a beer," he says.

* * * * *

AL home run leader Mark Teixeira hits his first long ball of the year off a left-handed pitcher (Dontrelle Willis). The AL leads 7-0 in the sixth.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure the NL would be able to score if Francona had Charlie Brown take the mound.

Overheard at the ballpark grill:

"This is a boring game."

"Yeah, but the stealth bomber was cool."

Two uniformed Detroit police officers sit on a bench.

"I got a six pack at home," one says with a smile. "It is cold. Ice cold."

* * * * *

A shirtless man hunches over a sink in the Tiger Club bathroom, scrubbing his arms with a washcloth.

"Gotta get this stickiness off," says Torrie Robinson. "I'm about to get out of here. I see everyone else drinking beer. I need a few of those myself."

Robinson is a party server. He's been here since 2:30, working the Tiger Club and an event hosted by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. At the latter, someone gave him a ticket to the game.

Too bad he couldn't use it. Or maybe not: His shift over, Robinson is heading to a nearby bar.

"Dollar night," he says with a grin. Beats $8.

* * * * *

A voice comes over the press section intercom. Attention media: The five double plays turned by the two clubs sets a new All-Star Game record.

Whoo-hoo! Bring on the stealth bomber!

* * * * *

Oops. Not so fast. Bottom of the ninth, AL leading 7-3. B.J. Ryan does his best Charlie Brown, yielding an RBI double and another run on a ground out.

Two outs. Mist turns to drizzle. Francona calls for Mariano Rivera. Crafty, just-win move? Or does the AL manager have a side deal with television that pays him a percentage on every extra commercial shown?

* * * * *

Unfortunately for the NL, Luis Gonzalez has already batted. Rivera fans Morgan Ensberg. Ballgame. Tejada is named MVP.

* * * * *

LaRussa's post-game press conference: Is it true that Roger Clemens told the NL manager to let his younger teammates pitch?

"The fans wanted to see [Clemens]," LaRussa says. "This is their game, and it might be their last chance."

"I hope he retires since he pitches for the Astros."

* * * * *

Francona sits before the press. Question No. 1? Rogers.

"Is that really the first question after a night like this?" Francona says. "That's not my job to judge Kenny."

Leave that to everyone else.

* * * * *

Something you don't see every day, and by every day we mean just about ever: Damon cheering for Rivera.

"I heard Johnny say something like, 'C'mon Mo!'" Francona says. "I said to him, 'I would bet I would never hear you say something like that. But for one night, it was pretty cool.'"

* * * * *

Tejada is at the podium, flanked by his wife and children. He didn't HIT IT HERE, but he did hit one out. And as MVP, he gets a new car.

Tejada grabs a microphone, holds it to his daughter's lips.

"Baseball," she says, "has been berry, berry good to my daddy."

The room erupts in laughter. After three days of female party ringers, spilled Slurpees and the incredible disappearing Billy Bob Thornton, a punch line seems appropriate.

Posted: Tuesday, 7:45 p.m., ET

MLB FANFEST, THE COBO CENTER, Tuesday, July 12

Super Bowl golf balls. A Pope John Paul II commemorative pennant. A 7-foot tall, 250-pound bobblehead statue.

With the possible exception of Vladimir Putin's newly acquired NFL Super Bowl ring, you can buy just about anything at the All-Star Fanfest.

Case in point: Tiger Woods oil painting, $3,900.

Case in point II: $85 photo of a bloody, pistol-packing Al Pacino, framed under glass with a Cohiba cigar, two rifle bullets and a caption reading, "Scarface -- Die now you CACAROCH!"

"You can make a lot of money at this," says Ray Colelough, a memorabilia dealer from California.

No kidding. Besides the "Scarface" piece, Colelough's booth features signed-and-framed Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle jerseys, which respectively cost $15,900 and $12,900.

Colelough rings up a LeBron James plaque, seemingly a steal at just $25.

"It's for my father-in-law," says the buyer, tugging at his Yankees cap. "He's really into it. He has a whole wall of stuff. He could have his own booth, like this."

Give him time. A dealer for nearly 20 years, Colelough started as a fan -- he claims he became friends with Joe DiMaggio while living in Millbrae, Calif. in the mid-1980s.

Back then, Colelough says, he also made regular treks to the San Francisco 49ers' practice facility. Players such as Joe Montana and Dwight Clark would show up for work, fast-food breakfasts in hand. Colelough stood outside, asking for autographs. The players obliged. Things snowballed.

Today, Colelough offers game-used bats from Barry Bonds ($3,800), Albert Pujols ($1,550) and Ramon Hernandez ($150). Sales are brisk. Bat-shaped shipping boxes are in short supply at the DHL booth near the main entrance.

The memorabilia market is as volatile as it is lucrative. Colelough offers a signed Kobe Bryant jersey for $950. It used to cost more. At another booth, a Marcelo Rios poster has been marked down from $5 to $3. No one's buying.

Fraudulent items are another headache. Dealers rely on authentication services, but the bottom line remains caveat emptor.

"There's no foolproof way to be sure," says Mike Darwish, a dealer from outside Cincinnati. "Doesn't matter who you deal with. I've had things that I've seen athletes sign myself, and then there were questions about them. You do the best you can to sell a good product."

Recently, a kid approached Darwish with three baseballs purchased on eBay. Autographs from Ernie Banks and Stan Musial checked out. But Barry Larkin's purported signature wasn't even close.

"Unfortunately, eBay is a dumping ground for junk," Darwish says. "I told the kid to do what he could, but I doubt he'll get his money back."

Like Colelough, Darwish began as a fan. But after 17 years in the business, the thrill has worn off, replaced by cold calculation. Darwish had a Jose Canseco World Series ring, a salesman's sample, one of three in existence. For the right price, a friend talked him out of it. He points to an autographed, black-and-white photo of a young Mickey Mantle, posing with his brothers.

Darwish likes the piece, even considered putting it on his wall at home. Instead, it sports a $995 price tag.

"I don't know if the word is jaded," he says. "But you do lose some of the appreciation. There are some pieces I'd like to keep. But with two kids ..."

* * * * *

Officially licensed MLB doughnuts! Twelve-thousand, five-hundred each! Free fantasy camp included!

Like everyone else in here, Mark Webb is selling dreams. And like everything else in here -- particularly the $10,000 life-sized bobblehead -- dreams don't come cheap.

A former minor leaguer, Webb owns a California-based startup company called Major League Experience, which offers a nine-day adult baseball camp. In early November, campers will play six games in six big-league parks, enjoying what Webb calls the "major-league lifestyle."

Per person cost? A meager $12,500.

"We want people to know what it's like," says Webb, whose 10-year minor-league career stalled at Double-A. "People travel every night, from city to city. They even have to do interviews with the media after games."

Really -- Webb has lined up camera crews and print reporters to conduct mock interviews.

"If someone wants to go Kenny [Rogers] on a cameraman, they can," Webb adds. "The only thing missing are groupies and agents. But they do the same thing."

Though the camp is staffed by a group of ex-major leaguers, including Bret Saberhagen and Jay Johnstone, Webb says that stadiums in Phoenix, San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Seattle are the real draw. In fact, a big-league park helped inspire the venture: while playing on a Los Angeles rec team with Saberhagen and former pro Bret Barberie, Webb noticed that other teams would do almost anything to reach the league title game, held at Dodger Stadium.

"The cheating in our league as we got closer to the championship was unbelievable," Webb says. "People brining in ringers, faking driver's licenses. So I said to Bret -- what would people pay for a fantasy league that did this?"

Good question. Webb hopes to expand, partner with MLB, launch a Southern ballpark tour. And that's not all.

"We've been approached by producers who want to do a reality show about this," he says, laughing. "Have the last guy standing get a pro contract. That's a little more than I imagined."

* * * * *

The bobblehead craze is getting bigger. Literally. Besides the aforementioned $10k el gigante, collectible dealers are now selling 36-inch dolls that cost up to $500.

And fans are buying.

"They're selling well," says dealer Joe Biggs. "We thought bobbleheads would slow down. But we sold more this year than ever before."

Made of resin and manufactured in China, the extra-large dolls weigh 40 pounds and have been on the market for about a year. Like their smaller counterparts, they generally bear a passing -- and that's being generous -- resemblance to real-life athletes.

Chipper Jones appears to have the same head as Hideki Matsui. Joey Harrington brings to mind Mr. Sulu from "Star Trek," while LeBron James resembles fat-faced comedian Tracy Morgan. A sunglasses-wearing Reggie Jackson doll could pass for deceased rapper Eazy-E. Cal Ripken looks like Chucky from "Child's Play." On the plus side, he isn't holding a butcher knife.

* * * * *

More memorabilia: at the back of the cavernous conference hall, MLB is holding a live auction. A Hank Aaron jersey goes for $1,400.

If baseball fans have this much money, why is the sport always crying about player salaries and revenue?

To the immediate left, former All-Stars Mark Fidrych and Harmon Killebrew sign autographs from a stage. Below, a Space Mountain-shaming line snakes across the floor. The line moves quickly. One signature per person.

"It's a two-hour wait," says a security guard. "And this line is short. We cut it off about an hour ago."

* * * * *

Among the interactive exhibits is a fantasy broadcast booth. Fans sit in front of televisions, headphones on, and provide their own calls to classic baseball moments.

Can fans provide play-by-play for Canseco's infamous flyball off the noggin?

Nope.

What about Randy Johnson obliterating that poor dove?

Nope.

Darn. No fantasy sportswriting booth, either. I'm shocked. Just shocked.

* * * * *

Rule of thumb: when your fastball tops out at 51 miles per hour, the fantasy bullpen is the only bullpen you're ever going to see.

* * * * *

Two fun facts from the International Baseball display: 1) During the Cold War, Czech citizens had to play baseball at hidden fields in order to avoid arrest; 2) Any Taiwanese player who hits a home run during league play is given a stuffed replica of his team's mascot as he crosses home plate.

Hmmm. If we can import the former measure to Tampa Bay -- and institute the latter policy for Barry Bonds -- I think this world baseball stuff might not be a complete waste of time.

* * * * *

Pity Detroit Tigers fans. They once claimed Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg and Kirk Gibson as their own; today, a Fanfest photo mural celebrating recent franchise history is slightly less inspiring.

Consider the following player captions, seemingly penned by Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf:

• Jeff Weaver: "Led all Tigers hurlers with 200 innings pitched."

• Shane Halter: "Played all nine positions in 2000."

• Jeremy Bonderman: "Became youngest Tigers player to break camp with the club since Alan Trammell."

• Brandon Inge: "Became starting third baseman in 2005."

At this rate, one half expects the mural at the Detroit's next All-Star Game to sport captions like: "Omar Infante: Boarded team flight in 2006," and "Nook Logan: Became most recent Tigers player to successfully tie shoelaces."

How the mighty have fallen.

* * * * *

ALL-STAR GAME RED CARPET SHOW, Tuesday, July 12

David Ortiz sits in the back of a convertible, holding an umbrella. Where's Farnsworth Bentley when you need him?

It's sticky and hot outside Comerica Park. The sky is hazy. Baseball is holding its first-ever "red carpet" show, which consists of players circling the stadium atop convertibles and trucks.

The procession begins on Elizabeth W street (Detroit streets have strange alphabetic designations, like "John R"), near the entrance to the Tiger Club. An actual red carpet has been laid across the road. Fans line up behind metal parade barricades.

Gary Sheffield waves, tosses packs of baseball cards to the crowd. A Japanese tourist snags a pair of Tigers-themed fuzzy dice, thrown by Jason Bay. Jeff Kent rides on the back of a pickup. Good thing he isn't holding a sponge.

In theory, the whole affair is way to connect with fans; in reality, it's a way for baseball to sell yet another corporate sponsorship, this one to General Motors. Still, spectators seem happy. It's not every day you score free fuzzy dice.

Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.




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