All-Star Monday: Duke, Sanchez get the spotlight; now it's Derby time

IMG00082.jpgWelcome to Busch Stadium on All-Star Monday. I am cetainly an amateur when it comes to photography, but I did snap a shot of the front of the stadium during my walk to the park. It is a sea of red and white everywhere… though you can see that for yourself.
The fans here in St. Louis are among the best anywhere in the country, and they are truly embracing the fact that the All-Star Game is here for the first time since 1966.

Though the NL sluggers participating in the Derby — Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and fan favorite Albert Pujols — don’t have any ties to the Pirates, Pittsburgh is going to be represented in tonight’s Derby. And in fact, the spotlight on Pirates bullpen coach Luis Dorante is expected to be quite large.

Dorante will be throwing to Pujols on Monday after being approached and asked to do so by the Cardinals slugger back in May. Dorante has never thrown to Pujols before, but Pujols has seen him throwing batting practice in Pittsburgh and in the Dominican Republic before and that was enough. 

“It’s an honor,” Dorante said. “He saw me throwing and said he likes the way the ball came out of my hand. He doesn’t have anybody — his coach can’t be there — and he wanted to have somebody he knows throw to him.”

Dorante knows the pressure on him, and be sure that he’s taking this experience quite seriously. He has spent some time watching film of Pujols’ swing and determining his sweet spot, hopeful that the extra time spend studying will pay off.

“You’ve got to find the hitter’s area and keep throwing to that area,” Dorante said. “You want to stay in one spot where the hitter can do whatever he wants with it. With Albert, his area is anywhere in the strikezone  — in, out, up, down, wherever. So that’s a good thing.”

Dorante has brought his family here to St. Louis to enjoy the two days of festivities as well. It is his first time experiencing a Major League All-Star Game.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the big stars,” he said. “To see all those guys together on the same field will be special. It’s going to be fun.”

***

Earlier this afternoon, all the NL and AL All-Stars were briefly made available to the hoarde — yes, hoarde — of media. I got a few minutes to speak with Freddy Sanchez and Zach Duke, and it’s easy to tell that both are genuinely honored to be here this week.

Phillies manager and NL skipper Charlie Manuel said he sees Duke as being a long relief option, meaning that if the game goes just nine innings (unlike last summer’s 15-inning classic), Duke might not make an appearance. Manuel has also said that he likes the fact that Sanchez can step in at second, third or short if needed, so keep your eyes open for the Pirates’ second baseman to possibly play elsewhere on the diamond for the first time this season.

Both players were on the field not too long ago, taking part in the NL batting practice session.
Oh, and be sure to look for Duke during the Derby tonight. He promised to be sitting on the field, video camera in hand.

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