ST. LOUIS (AP) — The moment Tim Wakefield realized what it meant to be at the All-Star game came well before he dressed alongside Derek Jeter or warmed up next to Roy Halladay.

It happened in a hotel elevator, actually.

That’s where Wakefield happened to run into Trevor Hoffman. The pair of fortysomething baseball lifers exchanged a fast, firm handshake, then ran off to another round of festivities.

“We’ve both been in the game so long, but our paths haven’t crossed too much. Maybe back in ’93 when Trevor was starting out and I was in Pittsburgh, but that’s about all,” Wakefield said Monday. “It was nice to get a chance to say hi.”

Count Hoffman among those glad the Boston knuckleballer finally got here.

“I’m excited for Tim. I’ve followed his career and he’s a credit to the game. He deserves this chance,” said Hoffman, baseball’s career saves leader and a seven-time All-Star.

Now, the question is whether the 42-year-old Wakefield will get into Tuesday night’s game at Busch Stadium.

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro was a 318-game winner, yet faced a total of only four batters in All-Star play. As in, even Carl Pavano has pitched more in All-Star play.

Even when the game was purely an exhibition for pride, managers were reluctant to throw Niekro’s knuckler into the mix. Will Wakefield’s fate be the same, especially with World Series home-field advantage at stake?

AL manager Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay hasn’t revealed his plans for Wakefield, tied with fellow All-Stars Josh Beckett and Jason Marquis for the major league lead with 11 wins.

“Whoever is going to catch him is going to be uncomfortable. That’s just the way it’s going to be. But you can’t choose to not pick somebody because you’re concerned about who’s going to catch the guy,” Maddon said. “I have caught a knuckleballer in my past, and it’s not fun.

“If you wanted to really think about it, for catchers that have not caught a knuckleball pitcher, a knuckleball, it’s really not fun, it’s very uncomfortable, especially under the circumstances,” he said.

Minnesota’s Joe Mauer might be the leading candidate because the Twins have a knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, on their staff. Cleveland’s Victor Martinez is the AL’s backup catcher.

“It’s probably me,” Mauer said. “I got the glove. But it’d probably be a little nerve-racking.”

Asked who might handle him, Wakefield provided another answer: Brandon Inge.

Inge came up as a catcher with the Tigers and worked well with knuckleballer Steve Sparks. Inge is now the Tigers’ full-time third baseman, and one of the two dozen-plus newcomers to the All-Star game.

Inge said he was flattered that Wakefield would mention him. That said, he wasn’t so sure it was a great idea.

“I mean, it’s up to the team. I haven’t caught in a long time. I know exactly how you catch it – you pick it up off the backstop,” Inge said. “I’m not sure I want to make my first All-Star appearance as a catcher.”

Just in case, Wakefield would gladly supply the glove. He packs an oversized catcher’s mitt wherever he goes, in case of emergencies.

Wakefield’s go-to glove is about 12 years old, and has been used by Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli, Scott Hatteberg and others. It’s a fast-pitch softball catcher’s mitt that Louisville Slugger made for him, but it’s out of play this week – his personal catcher on the Red Sox, George Kottaras, keeps it. Wakefield brought backup leather to St. Louis.

He also brought the spirit of a kid.

“I’m reliving my youth, being out here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting on the field, the whole festivities I’ve watched for 17 years.”

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