Is the All-Star Game a joke? Not to those who are here

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PHOENIX – Where’s Derek Jeter?

That seemed to be the question on the mind of many during Monday’s media day leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, decided not to play in the game, as he has recently returned from the disabled list with a calf injury.

Jeter is one of 16 players either unable or unwilling to participate in the game. Some, like Alex Rodriguez, are out because of a serious injury, others because of nagging aches and pains. Several pitchers are not allowed to participate, by MLB rule, because they started games on Sunday.

Jeter is simply the most notable of the 16 in part because of who he is, but also because he returned from the DL six games ago. He has gone 10-for-27 since his return, and certainly seemed healthy on Saturday when he went 5-for-5 to surpass the 3,000-hit mark.

Some say his absence, along with that of several others, makes a mockery of the game. But it’s hard to take credibility away from an exhibition game, and no matter what Bud Selig does to give it some importance, the All-Star Game is just that.

Rest a balky calf for a playoff run or fly to Arizona to play a couple innings in a non-counter? It’s a pretty easy choice. If Jeter, or any player, doesn’t want to play in the All-Star Game, there are plenty of players more than thrilled to step in and take part.

Seattle Mariners rookie Michael Pineda was asked if he ever expected to be an All-Star at age 22: “No,” he said, laughing. “It’s wild. To play in the All-Star Game is unbelievable. I’m very excited to be here. This is a big day for me.”

Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Kevin Correia, selected to his first All-Star Game at age 30, said he suffered through several sleepless nights after being told he was first in line to nab a spot if another pitcher opted out.

“It was a relief (when I finally found out),” said Correia, 11-7 with a 4.01 ERA. “It was just a goal that I wanted to accomplish in my career at some point. To finally get to experience something like this is definitely going to be something I’m going to look back on as a highlight in my career.”

And Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero (pictured), 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA, was positively giddy about being chosen as a replacement.

“I’m just trying to soak everything in,” Romero said. “I’m living the dream.”

Romero spoke about his rise from the baseball fields of East Los Angeles and the importance of representing his hometown. At breakfast Monday morning, his mother told him how family and friends back in California were sharing in his excitement.

“Everyone who watched me grow up and watched me play, they saw how hard I worked and everything I put into it,” Romero said. “It just shows that anyone can make it out of there. It shows little kids that if you work hard you can do anything.”

And if the All-Star Game becomes a regular occurrence for Romero, would he ever consider skipping the festivities and using the break to rest?

“I would never miss this for the world,” he said, beaming. “For me, it’s exciting, and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. The more, the better.”

One of the best things about baseball’s All-Star Game, what separates it from the others of its kind, is that the players give their all on the field from start to finish. There is no coasting on defense, no taking it slow to avoid injury, no grooving pitches down the middle just to get some work in.

If you start pressuring players to compete who might not be 100 percent healthy you might lose some of that quality of play. And in the end, a pennant race is far more important than an exhibition game.

“I think it’s a personal decision,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will play in his sixth All-Star Game, his first as a starter. “Derek has been an ambassador to this game. He’s been nothing but great. I’m not into nit-picking. He’s here every year. He gives his time, and he does everything by the book. He just got back from the DL, I don’t blame him at all. They’re trying to win the World Series.”

But would a healthy McCann ever turn down an All-Star appearance?

“Never. I always want to be a part of this.”

To each his own.

Yankees to hire Josh Bard as their new bench coach

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Aaron Boone has no experience as a coach or a manager at any level. As such, some have speculated that he’d hire a more seasoned hand as his bench coach as he begins his first season as Yankees manager. Someone like, say, Eric Wedge, who was a candidate for the job Boone got and who once managed Boone in Cleveland.

Nope. According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, he’s going with Josh Bard.

Bard, 39, was a teammate of Boone’s with the Indians in 2005. He’s not without coaching experience, having spent the last two seasons as the Dodgers’ bullpen coach, but he’s not that Gene Lamont/Don Zimmer-type we often see in the bench coach role.

Which is fine because different managers want different things from their bench coach. Some are strategy guys, helping with in-game decision making. Others are relationship guys who help managers understand all of the dynamics of the clubhouse while they’re worrying more about lineups and stuff. Others are trust guys, who can serve as the manager’s sounding board, among other things. Some are combinations of all of these things. As Feinsand notes in his story, Boone said at his introductory press conference that he’s looking for this:

“I want smart sitting next to me. I want confidence sitting next to me. I want a guy who can walk out into that room and as I talk about relationships I expect to have with my players, I expect that even to be more so with my coaching staff. Whether that is a guy with all kinds of experience or little experience. I am not concerned about that.”