David Eckstein (Cardinals), 2005 & 2006
Eckstein's first of two All-Star Game experiences has special significance. We'll let him tell the story:
"I'd call my dad after every game, and when I called him [after a Sunday game in San Francisco], I could tell there was something wrong. He said he couldn't come to the All-Star Game because he had a city commission meeting, but he didn't sound good. I hung up and called my sister, who lived across the street. She called back a few minutes later and said, 'He's in an ambulance and he's not breathing.'
"If anyone knew my father, they knew that I had instructions from him that if he passed away and I had a game, to play it.
"We got on the plane to Detroit, not knowing. I didn't sleep. We landed at 6 a.m. and he was OK. He had fluid in his lungs [from an issue with dialysis]. It was a scare.
"The phone call saved his life. If we hadn't talked, he wouldn't have told anyone he was having trouble."
That experience made moments like fielding the in-between-hop grounder hit by Johnny Damon to start the 2005 game and the rest of his two All-Star experiences easier to handle.
"I had always dreamed of being an All-Star, so it was very special to me to make it as a shortstop," he said. Eckstein now lives in Florida with his wife and family and helps run his wife's sci-fi apparel business.
Preston Wilson (Rockies), 2003
Wilson had good seasons in his first four full years in the big leagues, but with the offensive explosion in the sport, he couldn't make an All-Star roster. That is until 2003, when as a member of the Rockies his numbers were just too good to pass up.
Growing up, Preston's favorite players were always the guys with the odd names: his uncle, Mookie Wilson, Oscar Gamble, Hubie Brooks, U.L. Washington and Dusty Baker. So it was a kick for him to get to play for Baker in this game.
"He was a guy I always wished I’d played for," Wilson said. "To have him come down the line with his wrist bands and the toothpick in his mouth to shake hands with me, that was a big thrill. I was so excited, I don’t even remember what he said."
Wilson went 1-for-2, singling off Mark Mulder. But more than the hit, he remembers the feeling of accomplishment.
"I never judged myself as a player, but it was nice to get recognized, and it was nice to know that I did it without [PEDs]," Wilson said. "I think players are starting to appreciate it now, because they realize how hard it is to get there, and how tired you get. You really have to battle through."
Wilson is currently a Marlins pregame/postgame broadcaster and an analyst for Fox College Sports.
Mike Krukow (Giants), 1986
Krukow got to hear the stories every year beginning in 1977, when Bruce Sutter brought back T-shirts and other paraphernalia and told Krukow and his teammates how awesome the All-Star experience was. When Krukow finally got there in 1986, his goal was to take the mound and pitch for the 20 family members and friends who came to the Astrodome.
"I was in the bullpen and [bullpen coach] Mike Roarke says, 'You've got the ninth,'" Krukow said. "I had so much adrenaline, I threw my first warm-up [pitch] 95 mph. I hadn't thrown 95 in 10 years.
"Jody Davis was catching the ninth, and I put the first two pitches in his glove, right on the outside corner. Ball one. Ball two. I got a little panicked. But then Cal Ripken Jr. hit one right back to me and I snagged it, and I was fine."
Krukow's one lament was that when the NL took its team photo, the result came out so blurry that no one was recognizable. But the picture of the day rests firmly in his mind.
"My experience was so vivid," says Krukow, a Giants broadcaster for the past two decades. "It's like it happened yesterday. The realization was as great as the anticipation."
Lee Mazzilli (Mets), 1979
Mazzilli was rather wide-eyed when he arrived in the NL locker room at the Kingdome. "It was a little intimidating," he said. "There were so many players I looked up to -- Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Lou Brock."
Mazzilli would get to prove he belonged in the eighth inning, delivering a pinch-hit, game-tying solo homer down the left-field line against reliever Jim Kern.
"I was just hoping I wouldn't embarrass myself," Mazzilli said. "I got a good pitch and knew I could hit it well. After I hit first base, it was like I was floating on air."
Mazzilli's bases-loaded walk against Ron Guidry in the ninth inning would force in the winning run.
Thirty-four years later, those moments still resonate with Mazzilli, now a special advisor to the Yankees.
"How do you describe something where you are completely overtaken by the experience?" he said. "It was one of the greatest experiences of my career. For one day, you're the best in the world."
Ken Harrelson (Red Sox), 1968
In the Year of the Pitcher, Ken Harrelson was the best hitter in the game -- and the reward was to play alongside baseball legends in the 1968 Midsummer Classic.
Harrelson flied out to left as a pinch-hitter against Don Drysdale, but his bat would still come in handy.
"When Tom Seaver came in, he was throwing hard," Harrelson said. "Tony Oliva asked if he could borrow my bat. I used the heaviest bat in the league. Seaver threw him a pitch that was probably 100 mph and he hit a rocket for a double. I couldn't believe he got a hit with that bat."
The AL would lose 1-0, but the significance of the day was not lost on Harrelson.
"It was a sense of accomplishment for me, but I think I was happiest for my mom," he said. "She was a single parent and I was a mama's boy, still am. She brought me up with good advice. I used to think she was wrong, but I realized much later that she was right about everything.
"I wanted to play basketball, but her favorite player was Rocky Colavito, and she wanted me to play baseball. She always told me not to think about myself as much as to think about winning."
Harrelson is in his 29th season as a White Sox broadcaster.
Eric Young (Rockies), 1996
When Young made the NL All-Star team in 1996, the significance of who would likely be his middle-infield mate was not lost on him.
This would be the final All-Star Game for Ozzie Smith, who would retire at season's end. Young made sure to take full advantage of the moment.
"I'll never forget what he said," Young said. "'Everyone will look at you as an All-Star from now on. You have a responsibility to play like one.' After that, all I wanted to do was turn a double play with him."
They would get the chance in the ninth inning after Mark McGwire singled. Smith told Young, "Here we go!" and sure enough Sandy Alomar Jr. obliged, grounding one right to Smith, who flipped to Young for a 6-4-3 double play.
"At the end of the game, we gave each other a big hug," Young said. "It was great. In terms of individual moments for me, I hit the first homer at Mile High Stadium and I stole six bases in a game. But I also got to turn a double play with Ozzie Smith in his last All-Star Game and that was awesome."
Young is pregame/postgame analyst on Astros telecasts.
Aaron Boone (Reds), 2003
Most players will find out their All-Star status via the team's manager. Boone learned he'd made the NL All-Star team in 2003 through his father, Bob, who happened to be the Reds' manager at the time.
"I went into his office," Aaron said. "My dad was totally stoic. I think I’ve seen him cry maybe two times in my life and this was one of them. It took him 30 seconds to say it.
"Needless to say, he was very happy for me."
Aaron's All-Star selection continued the family baseball legacy. Grandfather Ray made it twice (he was the last Tigers player to start at third base before Miguel Cabrera this year). His dad made it four times as a catcher. And his brother, Bret, made it three times, including this same season.
"My dad, mom, grandpa, wife and the whole family was there," Boone said. "We got a great picture of the three generations of Boones with me and my brother in our All-Star uniforms. It’s one of my favorite pictures from my career.
"I lined to right in my only at-bat, but it was still an awesome experience that no one can take away from me."
Boone has been part of ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" team since 2010.
Jack Armstrong (Reds), 1990
Armstrong recently pulled out his fuzzy VHS tape of his two scoreless innings in the 1990 All-Star Game. He saw the strikeouts of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, but mostly noticed the work of those around him.
"Andre Dawson made a nice play in right field," he said. "Ozzie Smith made a nice play on a grounder by Cal Ripken. Will Clark made a nice play on a popup by Sandy Alomar. Those are Hall of Fame caliber players behind me. I looked calm on tape, but if you lit a match near me, I’d have exploded."
Armstrong spent parts of seven seasons in the big leagues, and had his share of things go right and wrong.
But the 1990 season, which included a World Series title with the Reds and the All-Star Game start, couldn't have gone any better.
Armstrong entered the year as the Reds' No. 3 starter, but an 11-3 mark at the break netted him the NL starting nod at Wrigley Field.
It was a reward the importance of which was not lost on him 23 years later.
"I was someone who was in the right place at the right time, a talented pitcher on a really good team who made the most of his opportunity," Armstrong said.
Armstrong currently lives in Florida and coaches youth baseball.