Cubs' quantity reflects quality at ASG
Eight representatives demonstrates stardom in all phases
NEW YORK -- Kerry Wood won't be pitching in the All-Star Game, but he came for the festivities and to soak in the atmosphere. As he took questions from reporters Monday afternoon during the players' press conference, that atmosphere had to feel a little familiar.
From his spot along the row of tables in the Empire State ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Wood was at the center of the Cubs contingent. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto were taking questions to his left. To Wood's immediate right, Japanese media huddled around the table of Kosuke Fukudome. Manager Lou Piniella, a coach on this National League squad, was around the corner. Carlos Marmol and Aramis Ramirez were on the other side of the partition. There was literally no part of the giant ballroom in which someone would not be within sight of a Cubs player.
These few days are New York's time to shine, but for this hour, it had to feel like sweet home Chicago.
"It's amazing walking in here today and seeing seven of my teammates already here and talking," Wood said. "It's special. It's something different. There's guys who don't have any teammates here, and I'm sitting here with seven of my buddies."
He wasn't the only one feeling that way.
"It's amazing," said Marmol, who replaced Wood on the active All-Star roster this past weekend. "Your teammates, you play together and to have so many here, it's exciting."
It's not just the quantity of talent the Cubs have brought here that makes an impression, but the variety of it. While some great teams in recent years have managed to stack an All-Star lineup, or clutter the list of reserves with player ballot selections, or even put enough pitchers onto a staff to string together some innings, the Cubs are represented in every phase of the game.
"We've got quite a few here," Piniella said. "A few of them are hurt and not going to be able to participate, but it's an honor for our organization and it's a thrill for me to be part of this large group of players that are here. Hopefully the ones that get into the ballgame tomorrow do something to help the National League win."
Soto will be starting behind the plate, where he can look out in the distance as he takes his position and see Fukudome in center. Ramirez will be waiting to get into the game at third base.
Out in the bullpen, Dempster and Marmol will be waiting to get into the game, possibly to throw to Soto. And that doesn't include Wood and Soriano, who are out with injuries, or Piniella in the dugout.
"I think it says something about where we stand right now, and why our record is what it is," Wood said. "This is why we have a great team. It's all aspects of our game. We have outfielders, infielders, catchers, starting pitching and relievers. Every facet of our game has an All-Star in it. That gives you a chance to win a lot of games."
Said Ramirez: "We're playing well. We're doing everything we need to win ballgames. That's the key. We're pitching good, we're hitting with men on base, scoring runs. We're doing everything right."
Every Cubs All-Star, too, has a story. Among the players, only Soriano and Zambrano have been to more than one Midsummer Classic before this one. Dempster was the Marlins' lone representative the last time he was here, back as a 23-year-old in 2000. Wood pitched an inning in the 2003 game at what was then Comiskey Park. That was his last season with over 30 starts.
Wood made this year's team as a starter turned reliever. Dempster made it as a reliever turned starter. Then there's Soto, who in his first full Major League season has a chance to play in the same game that was an annual showcase for one of his heroes, fellow Puerto Rican-born catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
"Him winning a lot of Gold Gloves and being in all the All-Star Games, it really feels an honor to be on the same stage that he was," Soto said. "It feels really good. I met him when I was 16 years old."
If they can pull off a victory, it'll be more than just an honor, but a potential benefit. Perhaps no team in the National League can look at the All-Star Game and the World Series home-field advantage that goes with it with as much interest as the Cubs, whose 37-12 record at home is by far the best in the Senior Circuit and rivals the Red Sox for best in the Majors. Of course, that also rivals their 20-26 record away from Wrigley.
"Home-field advantage is huge in the playoffs, in any league," Dempster said. "Both in this locker room and in the American League, both sides realize it. And so, it's going to be a good game. It's going to be really competitive. And hopefully at the end of it, we can come out on top and lock up that home-field advantage for what could maybe mean something to us."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.