All-Star game has changed



PITTSBURGH -- My companion at the 1994 All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium asked me what would be different at this week's All-Star festivities at PNC Park.
Plenty.
Probably the biggest change is who's playing and who has three days off this week.
For years, the All-Star Game has showcased the likes of Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Mike Piazza.
Not this year.
Many younger players are taking the spotlight: the Mets' David Wright, Paul Lo Duca and Jose Reyes (all starters); the Phillies' Chase Utley and Ryan Howard; the Twins' Joe Mauer; the Mariners' Jose Lopez; and the Indians' Grady Sizemore.
Pirates favoriteBay a starter
Best of all, Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, easily the Bucs' best and most popular player in years, is a starter for the National League and infielder Freddy Sanchez, the NL's top hitter, is a reserve.
Yankees infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- young pups at the All-Star Game at Jacobs Field in 1997 -- have become the American League graybeards.
Different faces can be good, especially as baseball tries to wash away some of the stench created by steroids.
Another big change in Pittsburgh is the North Shore, home of the Pirates' ball park and the Steelers' Heinz Field. Back in 1994, there was Three Rivers Stadium and lots of parking space.
Today, for those with the money, appetite and thirst, there are plenty of places for fans to visit before and after the game.
Interleague playmakes difference
Another major difference from 12 years ago is interleague play. Before 1997, the only time when National Leaguers faced players from the American League was in the World Series or the All-Star Game.
But when Major League Baseball added interleague play nine years ago, seeing Yankees and Indians in NL parks wasn't rarity it once was.
And then there is money. It's been years since it was inexpensive to attend an All-Star Game, but the change over the past 12 years is substantial.
In 1994, a fan could purchase four field box seats as season tickets for $13 each, a commitment of about $4,200 for the 81-game season. (Ask my companion -- she remembers.)
Today, tickets for lowerdeck seats at PNC Park cost approximately twice that much.
In 1994, season ticket holders could buy their seats plus two outfield seats for the All-Star Game (Three Rivers Stadium had about 20,000 more seats than PNC Park). All-Star prices were $65 for lowerdeck seats between the foul poles and $45 for outfield seats. Home Run Derby was then part of All-Star Workout Day and those tickets (if memory serves) cost about $15 each.
Ticket priceshave gone up
Those prices are long gone. This year's season ticket holders paid $450 for each All-Star package seat that includes a ticket for Sunday's Future Game, today's workout/Home Run Derby and Tuesday's game.
Home Run Derby has really changed. In 1994, Monday's Workout Day began with former players playing an exhibition game followed by a lengthy batting practice session.
Late in the afternoon, Home Run Derby got under way and it lasted for about an hour. The slugging exhibition wasn't televised live; instead it aired on ESPN later that evening.
And it didn't take three hours, mostly because there was only one round.
In 1999, Home Run Derby evolved into a prime-time spectacle at Boston's Fenway Park. That was one year after the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run chase revitalized baseball.
Now, Home Run Derby airs live in prime time. Each year, ESPN allots two hours for the event and it seems every year that the derby runs over.
Has Home Run Derby lost some of its former luster? Maybe to some, but not to those trying to catch the balls.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.

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