NEW YORK, N.Y. - Torii Hunter was an All-Star rookie in 2002 when he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run and got a big bear hug from the slugger on the field. Now he's a veteran voice in a clubhouse with a record number of newcomers.
The always loquacious, ever-smiling 37-year-old Detroit Tigers outfielder is enjoying his role as a five-time All-Star selection.
With possible suspensions from the Biogenesis investigation looming over the game, Hunter defended Alex Rodriguez and other players who have been implicated in drug scandals over the years.
"I know how hard this game really is. I don't care what they did or who did or whatever, Barry Bonds all those guys," Hunter said Tuesday before the game at Citi Field. "Still impressive to hit. Still got to hit the ball."
No matter that Yankees closer Mariano Rivera might've caused him much disappointment at the plate over the years, Hunter knows who he is playing this night.
"We're down by one run. Trust me we're going to fight to get the lead and get the man in the game. It's about him. Today is going to be about him," Hunter said. "Even though he broke all my bats, he killed me ... I still admire that man."
On the lighter side, Hunter has his favourite All-Stars. Wacky All-Stars, that is.
"David Oritz, for sure, craziest forever. He sits here and holds court and tells all the jokes," Hunter said. "He is one of the funniest guys in All-Star game history."
There's also: "Ichiro (Suzuki). Manny (Ramirez). Ah, Manny. Forgot about Manny. Ooh, boy he was crazy. Can't tell you the stories. Pedro (Martinez) was funny. He put bubble gum in everybody's hats."
"You got to have fun in this clubhouse," he added. "This is how we relax."
The one player he is certain isn't crazy: Yankees injured shortstop Derek Jeter.
"Jeter's smooth. He's like a cold drink of water. Too cool for school," Hunter said.
So what did Bonds say to Hunter 11 years ago when he scooped up the kid near second base in Milwaukee?
"'Good catch kid, high five,'" Hunter said "I went high, he went low and picked me up. I tried to hold him down. Too strong."
HAIRY PERFORMANCE: For All-Stars, it appears that it's hairier, the better.
According to a study done by STATS and the grooming products maker Wahl, All-Stars with facial hair perform on a higher level than their clean-shaven teammates in the Midsummer Classic.
Players sporting beards have won the past six All-Star game MVP awards. Melky Cabrera, who soon after winning the MVP last year tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, homered in the game at Kansas City. Meanwhile, clean-shaven players have not connected in four years and 152 at-bats.
There's also this: Scruff-sporting sluggers over the last 10 games have hit .287 with a .441 slugging percentage. Smooth-skinned stars come in at .226 with a .382 slugging percentage.
No razor-thin margin.
So do guys like Boston's bearded Dustin Pedroia think "fear the beard," made famous by scraggily haired Giants closer Brian Wilson, really give them the edge?
"No, no," the 5-foot-8 second baseman said. "I'm pretty sure they don't make you intimidating, either."
CRY-BABY: Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis had a sizable white bandage wrapped around his right hand Tuesday after he popped a blister during the Home Run Derby the previous night.
Davis hadn't tested his hand in batting practice yet, but said he wouldn't have any trouble swinging or throwing. He said he's dealt with blisters and worn a bandage on that hand before without a problem. He remained in the starting lineup for the American League, hitting cleanup and playing first base.
"I'll be all right. I'm just going to swing one-handed," he joked in the clubhouse. "I'm not that tough. If you see me crying in the dugout, it's not because of my hand. I'm just an emotional person."
Davis has 37 home runs, matching Reggie Jackson (1969) for the most by an AL player before the All-Star break.
HAVE PEN HANDY: Mets captain David Wright looked down the row of dozens of baseballs lined up in his home clubhouse for the All-Stars to sign and sighed.
Being one of the host players for this year's All-Star game, demands on his time have been high. There is one part of the festivities that excites him, though.
"The special part for me is when the doors close and you kind of get to hang out with the guys and be around the best players in baseball," he said.
Wright then got back to signing the 27 dozen balls, 15 bats, 10 player placards and 11 All-Star jerseys laid out for everyone to autograph.
STRAY-A: Grant Balfour of Oakland is only the second Australian player to be an All-Star. The first was in 1999, when Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson was selected to the game in Boston. Balfour got the nod in part because he is perfect in 25 save attempts this season for the first-place A's. He and starter Bartolo Colon were the only Oakland players selected.
"For the team, we would have liked to see more players here, no doubt," Balfour said. "It didn't work out that way. ... We've got a team, they can get fired up and go out and show it on the field."
NUMBERS GUY: Clayton Kershaw's not a fan of using win-loss records to evaluate pitchers. Two seasons ago, he went 21-5, helping him to win the Cy Young Award.
He's aware that wins and losses rely on lots of factors beyond pitchers' control.
"It definitely feels good as a starting pitcher to have a good win-loss record," Kershaw said. "I don't think it's the most important thing, by any means."
What, then, does the three-time All-Star think is a more useful stat?
Kershaw is 8-6 with a 1.98 ERA this season.
"I think innings pitched is the most important. I think it kind of just encompasses everything. If you're going deep into games you're giving (your) team a chance to win, you're setting up your bullpen, it's probably going to be a close game if you're still in there late," he said.
Kershaw has pitched 145 1-3 innings in 20 starts this year, a little more than seven per start, meaning that topping his career high of 233 1-3 from 2011 is in reach.
CANO, CANO: Miguel Cabrera flung his bat into the stands when he swung and missed at a pitch from Patrick Corbin in the fourth inning. The flying bat nearly hit a child wearing, yup, a Robinson Cano Yankees jersey.
The real Cano had less luck than the boy. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch from Matt Harvey in the first inning and had to come out of the game.
EXTRA BASES: During pregame introductions, the PA announcer confused Tampa Bay teammates Ben Zobrist and Matt Moore. The two laughed about it. ... Twins closer Glen Perkins talking to teammate Joe Mauer and Yankees 2B Robinson Cano: "You are the same," he said, pointing at each player, "I can't get you out." ... Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He lined up on the rubber, then shuffled forward a few steps to laughs before throwing a wild one to Mets third baseman David Wright. ... MLB honoured 30 military veterans who were winners of "Tribute for Heroes" campaign. All-Stars including Mariano Rivera gave the veterans flags. Cleveland's Justin Masterson pushed the wheelchair of the veteran he was paired with off the field. Zobrist was matched with a vet and his dog.
AP Sports Writers Rick Freeman and Mike Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.