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23 first-time All-Stars debut as young stars emerge

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Howard's eyes widened when someone asked him about Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

"Nasty. Nasty, filthy stuff," the Philadelphia slugger said Monday. "His split-finger is ridiculous."

Howard also wanted to pass along a message to the Red Sox rookie: "Keep what you're doing, man. Just don't do it to me anymore. I'm tired of it."

Howard and Papelbon are bound to see each other at more All-Star Games if they keep dazzling opponents the way they have this season. They are two of 23 players on the rosters for their first All-Star Game.

"That is a big number," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez
said. "I didn't realize it was that big."

The National League features three first-timers in the starting lineup, including Mets third baseman David Wright, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and pitcher Brad Penny.

"There are big names missing that are truly All-Stars, you can start with [Barry] Bonds, [Ken] Griffey and [Craig] Biggio," NL manager Phil Garner said. "But it's exciting for baseball. ... We are embarking on a new era."

The more veteran-laden American League roster doesn't have a first-timer in the starting lineup, yet the league boasts two of the most captivating young talents in the game.

Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer leads the majors in hitting at .378. Papelbon, the one-time starter, is tied for the big-league lead with 26 saves.

Howard, second in the NL with 28 homers, won the Home Run Derby on Monday night. He could catch a break Tuesday night, too. Papelbon was unlikely to pitch after throwing 29 pitches in Boston's 19-inning, 6-5 loss to the White Sox on Sunday.

Monday's All-Star media sessions -- in which photographers jostle for pictures and reporters line up two- and three-deep to ask players the same questions -- might have been the most stressful part of the All-Star break for Papelbon.

"I'm fine where I'm at right now. Even if I'm not throwing, I'm an All-Star," he said. "I'm going to relax and enjoy my time off."

Across the room, Mauer was also a star attraction, drawing as much attention as the two big-name players sitting next to him: Teammate and Cy Young winner Johan Santana and Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

The biggest question facing Mauer?

"Batting .400 isn't a distraction. It's in your mind. I try not to look at it or pay attention to it," Mauer said in a soft voice. "I try not to look at the number too often. Just keep doing the same things that I'm doing."

Perhaps no young star draws as much of a crowd as Wright, the good-looking, well-spoken third basemen who has become a key part of the Mets' potent lineup. He and teammate and shortstop Jose Reyes were both elected starters in their first All-Star appearances, though Reyes will not play because of a deep cut on his left pinkie.

Wright says the youth movement in baseball is partly due to economics for major-league clubs.

"That's the trend in baseball, to get young. Financially, for teams, it's a smart move," Wright said. "Young guys can get brought up early, brought up young. They can be developed at the major-league level."

Not every first-timer is a household name. Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, who often had one-on-one chats with reporters at his table, got a nice view of the throng and cameras surrounding Wright.

McCann had originally scheduled a vacation to a Florida beach, but that changed after batting .343 with six homers in the first half.

"I can't believe I'm here," he said. "I'm still trying to soak it all in."

Then there's the most unlikely All-Star in Pittsburgh: Royals left-hander Mark Redman, who is 6-4 with a 5.27 ERA. Every team must be represented at the All-Star Game.

"The selection, and how it's done, I don't know that much about it," Redman said. "Hey, it's happy with me."