Granderson, All-Stars ready for presidential pitch
BEN WALKER,AP Baseball Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Curtis Granderson was thrilled to make the All-Star team for the first time. Then the Detroit center fielder discovered another treat might be in store – a chance to meet President Barack Obama.

Obama is set to throw out the ceremonial first ball at Tuesday night’s game. Granderson was pitching, too, for an opportunity to greet the president.

“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,” Granderson said Monday.

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

St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols will move behind the plate to receive Obama’s toss.

“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,'” Pujols 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.

New York Mets third baseman David Wright already knows what he’d say to Obama, given the chance.

“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.”

Wright grew up rooting for Virginia Tech.

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


SOFT TOSSIN’: San Diego closer Heath Bell was ready to take on another job during All-Star week – he wanted to pitch to Padres teammate Adrian Gonzalez in the home run derby.

“I’d lob them in for him,” Bell said Monday.

Instead, Bell watched from the first-base line with his NL teammates as Gonzalez took his cuts against Padres batting practice pitcher Ray Krohn.

Texas’ Josh Hamilton elevated the art of soft tossing in the derby to a new level last year when he brought his 71-year-old former American Legion coach.

This year, the eight derby contestants brought a mix of new and old to pitch.

Former derby champion Ryan Howard of the Phillies reached into his past and brought his summer ball coach.

“He’s a friend of mine and he’s special to me because he helped me kind of get to where I am today as far as my development and just helping me throughout the years,” Howard said. “I just felt it would be a special moment for us to kind of share because it all started here for me, and he was there from the get-go.”

Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder brought a former minor league hitting coach and Texas’ Nelson Cruz invited a coach from the Dominican Republic. Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena had the Rays’ regular batting practice pitcher, Detroit’s Brandon Inge chose the Tigers’ bullpen coach and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer brought his high school coach.

Albert Pujols, however, had to scramble. The St. Louis slugger who leads the majors with 32 home runs had wanted Cardinals coach Dave McKay, the team’s usual BP pitcher.

But with McKay away in Arizona, Pujols needed a free agent to throw to him. So he “borrowed” the bullpen coach from Pittsburgh.

“I’m going to try to get used to him and hopefully he can throw the ball down the middle and I can put good swings on it,” Pujols said.


LOOKS FAMILIAR: New York Mets third baseman David Wright has mixed feelings about Pedro Martinez nearing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I’m happy for Pedro, because I know he wants to pitch. I consider Pedro a tremendous teammate and a good friend of mine. So I somewhat wish him luck, but not really, I guess,” Wright said Monday.

The Mets trail the NL East-leading Phillies by 6½ games at the break. Martinez last pitched in the majors for the Mets in 2008, and he played in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

“I’m looking forward to facing him because I never really faced him. You want to face the best that the game has to offer and obviously throughout his career he’s been one of the best,” he said.

“Judging by the WBC, he pitched pretty well. And I know that’s a small sample, but you can never count a guy like Pedro out because he’s just got a certain competitiveness to him and a fire to him that not too many pitchers have,” he said.


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.

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