Nothing brings out the kid in a big leaguer like the All-Star Game and his inclusion. Bobby Abreu has run the gamut of emotions in the past week, from the disappointment of not being named, to being given another shot through fan voting, and then waiting to hear if he would be the last National Leaguer added. To ease his disappointment, Abreu had arranged for a private plane to take him back to his native Venezuela and see his mom after Sunday's game with Atlanta. On Wednesday, Phillies general manager Ed Wade and manager Larry Bowa told Abreu they needed to see him "upstairs." They sat their right fielder down and told him he'd have to cancel his plans for the break, they were sending him to Houston. Not sure what to make of the serious meeting, and in light of recent big-name trades involving the Astros, Abreu thought he might have been dealt to his original organization. When they saw the worried look on his face, Bowa and Wade informed him, no, he'd simply gotten more than two million votes and was going to his first All-Star Game. When Bobby called his mother back in Venezuela, she literally screamed on the phone, not because she was upset at not being able to see her son, but out of sheer joy and pride. Besides, she will be with Bobby, he's flying her to Philadelphia this weekend, and they're going to Houston together.
It was a little different for his former teammate Johnny Estrada, who was in the Braves' training room when Bobby Cox broke the news that he'd earned a trip to Houston. Estrada had been an All-Star four times in the minor leagues, three as a Phillie, and last year with the Braves when he earned Triple-A All-Star MVP honors. Not only is it Estrada's first major-league All-Star selection -- in a season where he simply wanted to stay on the roster all season for the first time and help ease the loss of Javier Lopez -- but Lopez didn't make the AL team, and for the first time since 1988 the Braves are sending just one representative to the midseason classic. That was when John Smoltz was a rookie, and he says it's really odd that a gang of Braves aren't making plans to head to the All-Star game together as they've done for more than a decade. Chipper Jones is also experiencing withdrawal in mid-July to underscore the injury infested struggle he's had in 2004. But he'll take the break to go to Destin, Fla., to spend time with his wife and son, then go to his ranch in Chorizo Springs, Texas to be with his dad. Larry Sr. underwent an angioplasty to clear three heart valves this week. Larry Wayne Jr. has had his heart with his ailing dad all week, and now will make a trip to Texas for family reasons to be with the father who helps him with his ranch.
Smoltz was victimized with just his second blown save of the season Friday night when Chase Utley took him out in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at Citizen's Bank Park. Smoltz won't blame the giveaway on the infamous visitor's bullpen in the new park, but there is no tougher place to warm up in the National League. There's a balcony hanging over the bullpen mounds with fans so ferocious that after hosting the Indians in an exhibition series to open the park just before the regular season, Phillies relievers insisted they be moved to the lower pen, which had been intended for the visiting team. Now they're up on the higher ground, and as soon as an opposing pitcher starts to get loose, the imbibers in right-centerfield let loose with a stream of invective which challenges any reliever's focus. As Smoltz put it, "those guys know things about your family that your parents don't even know!" One of the best jibes from the gallery overheard overhead in Ashburn Alley was when the Cardinals were in town and a heckler got on Jason Isringhausen of the Cardinals and told him to go to the rail, and take a look at a real closer. Billy Wagner was warming in the Phils' pen.
Larry Bowa's only been tossed out of four games this season (a little ahead of his pace of nearly six per season in his first three years on Philadelphia's bench), the latest being when Rafael Furcal's three-run homer was mistakenly called fair. It was nearly impossible to tell with the naked eye, but our ESPN freeze-frame replay showed it was on the other side of the foul pole. Bowa's original animated argument didn't get him tossed, but he must have seen one of the replays, because moments later, he was run by home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman who had conferred with third-base ump Gerry Davis and let the call stand. Bowa was spotted in a red T-shirt in the Phils' dugout tunnel late in the game, reminding me of the time he told me that after one of his ejections last season at the Vet, he was up in the concourse in street clothes taking in the game and trying to perform his job from afar. Bowa honestly claimed no one recognized him, which is nearly impossible to believe in a sports-mad town like Philadelphia. Hey, they even recognized me as "Jerry Myers."
Bowa was on the field in that same red T-shirt after the game, joining the rampaging celebration when Tomas Perez's pinch-hit won it in the bottom of the 10th, (did he tell Gary Varsho to make that move?) and he and the entire Phils' roster surrounded their utility infielder. Perez has become notorious for assaulting defenseless teammates during live postgame interviews with shaving cream pies, and had accosted Bobby Abreu just the night before after his walkoff homer against the Mets. After discussing his late-inning heroics for our postgame coverage, I asked Tomas if he was amazed he hadn't gotten the same treatment yet ... at which exact moment he said, "It's coming!", and at least half a dozen Phils teammates obliterated Perez with an avalanche of shaving cream filled towels on national TV. They were gracious enough to help him wash it off when he escaped to the dugout, and promptly got doused with the entire iced water jug.
There have already been three batters to hit for the cycle this season, the latest being David Bell on June 28 against the Expos. Bell was so oblivious to his moment in history, he didn't even know he'd accomplished the rare batting feat until he slid into third with a triple, the toughest component of a cycle and third-base coach John Vuckovich told him. It was Bell's first triple as a Phillie, and just the 12th of his career. But more significantly, he became the first grandson to share a cycle in the majors, his late grandfather Gus doing it the same month, in the same city, as a Pirate, 53-years earlier. David never saw an artifact commemorating his grandfather's cycle, but thinks his grandmother might have something. His dad Buddy, now coaching with the Indians, called to congratulate him that night, and the Phils' longtime equipment manager, Frank Coppenbarger, presented David with the game ball with Gus Bell's and David's names and the dates of their cycles inscribed for his collection. Hitting for the cycle is almost as rare as a no-hitter, averaging just over two per season, but two of the three this year have produced the first family editions ... Daryle Ward joining father Gary in the club back in May.
During last Sunday's broadcast of the 89th edition of the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, my co-host and as co-founder of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Richard Shea said, straight- Takeru Kobiyashi to Barry Bonds is an insult to Kobiyashi." The comment came as ESPN presented a graphic comparison of how the home run record has evolved in relation to the Japanese eating sensation's obliteration of the benchmark for hot dog eating in the regulation 12-minute span. For the fourth straight year, Kobiyashi won the Coney Island event, and for the third time, set a new world record in doing so, having been the first to 50 back in 2001 when no one else had ever ingested more than two dozen. It would be as if McGwire or Bonds had hit 122 home runs, instead of 70 or 73. That engorged comparison aside, Kobiyashi was a leftfielder on his high school team back in Nagano, but there's no doubt the diminutive 5-foot-7, barely 140-pound "gurgitator", could never approach what even his countrymen Ichiro and Hideki Matsui do with a baseball bat. Maybe he could eat it! His main competition came from a mysterious fellow countryman, Tokyo's Nobuyuki Shirota, with an enormous head cavity, standing well over 6-foot, and like Hideki Matsui, known as "Godzilla." But no one else could down even 40, as Kobiyashi extended his world standard to 53.5 Nathan's dogs, and you'd be amazed how many major leaguers were tuning in before their holiday games on the Fourth of July. Guys like Derrick Lowe and his Red Sox teammates looked up from their pregame card game to ask about Kobiyashi's achievement in amazement, knowing him by name, and even his statistics. Kobiyashi's interpreter says he's every bit the icon that Ichiro and the Matsuis are in Japan, and even has to wear disguises to maneuver in public. Although the Nathan's contest is the "Masters" of its "sport", there is no prize money, just the hallowed honor of possession of the championship Mustard Yellow Belt. The man known as the "Tsunami", has no known profession, but makes a comfortable living, well into six figures, just being Kobiyashi.
On a somewhat related note, I still haven't been allowed to divulge the contents of the A's secret weapon CD, which might provide a perfect soundtrack for the postgame of the hot dog eating contest. I will say, the A's are now 4-0 when the raucous track plays in the pregame locker room, but the piece's gifted author neglected to bring it on this final road trip before the break ... one in which Oakland went winless until exploding Saturday in Cleveland.
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.