Bound for Mobile

The 2005 AA-Southern League All-Star Game is set for Wednesday night in Mobile, Ala., but the festivities start to kick into high gear on early Tuesday evening. That's when the traditional all-star gala takes place, where members of the media get a golden opportunity to visit with the stars of the league and present whatever questions they choose. And of course, I have plenty to ask.

For starters, there's always the usual cream pops: "How honored are you to be here?"

Then come the slightly more straight to the point questions: "Do you feel a .235 average is really worthy of all-star status?"

And my favorite yet: "Just where will the Diamond Jaxx be playing next year, Jeff Parker?"

This year's all-star festivities will be held once again in southern Alabama at Hank Aaron Stadium. It's actually the third time in nine years that Mobile has hosted the event.

In addition to the gala, other Tuesday night events include a high school home run derby with players from area counties. The top three sluggers in the contest will each win a chance to square off with Southern League power-hitters in the league all-star derby the following night. Fans can even pay $5 to watch the major league all-star game from Detroit at "The Hank."

Those who will be on hand representing the Cubs' Double-A affiliate are pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Andrew Shipman, shortstop Buck Coats and third baseman Casey McGehee. Nolasco and Coats are scheduled to start.

On hand representing other clubs will be top-rated prospects like Tampa Bay's Delmon Young, Florida's Jeremy Hermida, San Diego's Paul McAnulty, and L.A.'s Joel Guzman.

Having met all of the current West Tenn all-stars in the past via telephone interviews and Spring Training, I think I have a good idea of what to expect. The players won't exactly be too hard to identify, either. In addition to their many photos found here at Inside The Ivy, each player will be wearing the jersey of his respective major league club.

Also on tap this week is an appearance or two by Hammerin' Hank himself, who will throw out the game's first pitch and serve as the keynote speaker for the league's all-star luncheon. Country music band "Trick Pony" will perform live after the game and of course sing the national anthem and seventh inning stretch.

All of these events were fortunate to go on as planned. For days, weather forecasters predicted Hurricane Dennis, at one point a Category 4 storm, could hit Mobile head on. As if you haven't heard by now, it missed and went toward neighboring Florida's Pensacola Beach.

Living in New Orleans, a city always alert to anything and everything brewing in the gulf, I've gone through a few hurricane preparations over the past year myself. It's only a three-hour drive to Mobile, and in preparation for the trip, I've made sure to load up on lots of old Willie Nelson albums for the ride to and from.

It should be a fun couple of days, not only for the all-star players, but for those assigned to cover the events as well.

"It's that time of year when it's going to be nice to have that little break," McGehee said.

After this first half, I'd imagine that statement holds true for most every Cubs fan, too.

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