Now pitching, the president: Granderson, Pujols, All-Stars eager for Obama’s first toss

By Ben Walker, AP
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Granderson, All-Stars ready for presidential pitch

ST. LOUIS — David Wright would like to talk ACC hoops. Carl Crawford hopes for a picture. Albert Pujols wants a nice, easy toss.

President Barack Obama is set to throw out the ceremonial first ball at Tuesday night’s All-Star game, and players already are pitching for an opportunity to greet him.

“A lot of people assume I’ve met him because we’re both from Chicago, but the closest I’ve gotten is watching him on TV,” Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson said Monday.

“If I could get a photo with him or shake his hand, that would complete my All-Star festivities,” he said.

Pujols will move behind the plate to receive Obama’s pitch.

“He says he wants to warm up before. So I’m just going to tell him, ‘Just lob it up there and don’t try to be a perfect throw,’” the St. Louis slugger said.

“Obviously it’s an honor to catch the first pitch from the president, as our leader. Tomorrow I think it’s going to get to me. As a little boy when I was my son’s age, I would never have thought I was going to be on this stage,” he said.

Wright roots for Virginia Tech, and remembered that Obama correctly picked North Carolina to win the men’s NCAA hoops tournament.

“I’d just talk sports. I mean, he seems pretty athletic and he likes to participate in sports. I would just sit around and talk sports,” he said. “I know he likes college hoops, so maybe we’ll talk a little ACC basketball.”

“I know he hooped it up with the Tar Heels,” he said.

Texas slugger Nelson Cruz previously met former President George W. Bush, a one-time owner of the Rangers.

“But this is the current president,” Cruz said. “I’d like to meet him, but I don’t want to be too political.”

PRINCELY SAVINGS: With 23 swings of the bat, Prince Fielder gave Brewers fans a chance to experience baseball’s good old days.

The Milwaukee Brewers unveiled a promotion last week offering $1 off select tickets for every homer Fielder hit in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

Milwaukee’s hefty slugger lofted a total of 23 homers to win the showcase — knocking $23 off the regular $28 face value for tickets in the loge outfield section at Milwaukee’s Miller Park for a three-game series against San Diego Aug. 11-13.

The 5,000 available $5 tickets sold out in 12 minutes Tuesday, the Brewers said.

NO BONDS: He turns 45 in two weeks and is under federal indictment, but Barry Bonds still isn’t ready to retire.

The career home run king last played in 2007 for San Francisco, batting .276 with 28 home runs, 66 RBIs and the NL’s top on-base percentage.

“I know the Giants are dying for power, and they’re in it. They wouldn’t have to look beyond their backyard,” Bonds’ agent, Jeff Borris, said Monday at the All-Star festivities.

“I talk to teams all the time, but nobody has brought up his name,” Borris said.

Bonds, a 14-time All-Star and seven-time NL MVP, is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to lying to a federal grand jury in December 2003 when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. The trial has been delayed because of a dispute over admissible evidence.

FIRST OFF: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez are swinging big bats this season, earning them spots on the NL All-Star roster and in the Home Run Derby.

Only one problem: They all play first base. And with the crowd at Busch Stadium hoping to see a lot of Pujols, the Cardinals star who leads the majors with 32 home runs, where does that leave the rest of the guys?

“This is Albert’s town, so if he needs to play the whole game, I would have no problem with that,” said Fielder, who won Monday night’s derby.

Howard figures most everyone will get a swing. The Phillies star might have an extra advantage or two — the NL manager is Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia, and Howard is from St. Louis.

“For me, knowing Charlie, there’s a good chance everybody’s going to get in this game. But I’m just here to enjoy myself,” he said. “If I’m called on to pinch-hit, I’m going to go out there and try to pinch-hit.”

HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW? Most Cardinals pitchers have taken to sporting mustaches as a sign of solidarity. Except for All-Star closer Ryan Franklin, whose distinctive goatee stretches several inches below his chin.

The 36-year-old Franklin earned his first All-Star nod on a near-perfect first half with 21 saves in 22 chances and a minuscule 0.79 ERA. It’s been all good news since he began growing the goatee early in spring training.

“A buddy of mine back home made T-shirts with a Cardinals hat, no face and just a big goatee, my number on the back and All-Star,” Franklin said. “Sold a few of them, too.”

Franklin said the goatee is getting a bit long, promising a trim sometime soon, but insists there’s no week-old soup bits hiding in the locks.

“It’s starting to bother me a little bit, starting to get in my face when I try to go to sleep at night,” Franklin said. “But it’s really clean. I’m a clean, well-groomed guy.”

SOFTBALL STARS: St. Louis musician Nelly was all over the field in the celebrity softball game Sunday night, hitting a long home run, making a sliding catch in left field and flattening the temporary fence in a futile chase of a homer by Andy Richter. … St. Louis native Jenna Fischer, who stars in the TV sitcom “The Office,” said her fondest Cardinals memory was reading a poem she had written as a young school girl on KMOX radio. “I feel like it was ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, Cardinals something,’” Fischer said.

AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and R.B. Fallstrom contributed to this report.

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