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Will young All-Star Cabrera find Ozzie-like mentor


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Will young All-Star Cabrera find Ozzie-like mentor?

 

By Tom D'Angelo, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, July 11, 2004

 

 

 

MIAMI GARDENS -- Mike Lowell's most vivid memory of his first All-Star Game is neither his two hits nor the bizarre ending to the game that officially sealed Bud Selig's fate as professional sports' most maligned commissioner.

 

Rather, it was a short conversation he had prior to that 2002 game at Milwaukee's Miller Park.

 

"My highlight is Ozzie Smith coming up to me and saying he appreciates the way I play,'' Lowell said. "I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. I watched Ozzie Smith on The Baseball Bunch when I was 9 years old. I would throw the ball against the garage because Ozzie Smith said what you got to do is find a wall and throw the ball against it.

 

"My parents made me clean the wall with all the marks in the garage and I told them, 'That's what Ozzie Smith said to do.' "

 

Lowell is part of a large Marlins contingent that will participate in Tuesday's mid-season showcase in Houston, Florida's reward for their 2003 World Series title. That group includes manager Jack McKeon, Miguel Cabrera, Armando Benitez, Carl Pavano and many coaches. For Pavano, Lowell and Benitez, that success has come later in their careers with all 28 or older when named a first-time All-Star.

 

Cabrera, though, will be looked upon differently. The Marlins' baby-faced right-fielder turned 21 on April 18. He is the youngest All-Star in this season's game and just nine months older than the youngest to ever play in the game (Detroit's Al Kaline, who was 20 years, 6 months, in the 1955 game).

 

Four of Cabrera's teammates -- Houston's Roger Clemens, San Francisco's Barry Bonds, Arizona's Randy Johnson and Cincinnati's Barry Larkin -- made their major-league debuts before Cabrera was out of diapers. Only St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Chicago's Carlos Zambrano were born in the '80s.

 

Is there an All-Star who'll affect Cabrera like Smith did Lowell? Cabrera is not sure, although some of the stronger candidates include Chicago's Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou or Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. Cabrera, who is close with Pujols and the Cardinals' Edgar Renteria, only remembers rooting for the American League when he was growing up in Venezuela, partly because fellow countryman Omar Vizquel often wore the uniform.

 

"I will be excited,'' Cabrera said. "But I think I will go there to learn, to learn the way they way they prepare, what they do before a game.''

 

Excited, the way Dontrelle Willis was a year ago when he was a rookie All-Star at 21 years, 6 months, or teammate Alex Gonzalez was in 1999 at 22 years, 5 months.

 

Willis is a mature, cerebral player. He picked players' minds, talking to Benitez (an All-Star as a Met), John Smoltz and Eric Gagne in the bullpen, and Bonds and Gary Sheffield at practice.

 

"It's the biggest stage. You can't do anything but take a lesson from that,'' Willis said.

 

Gonzalez was more starry-eyed in 1999 -- playing in Fenway Park for the first time, meeting Ted Williams, watching Mark McGwire deposit ball after ball over the Green Monster during the Home Run Derby. He added to his memorabilia collection with signed bats, balls and hats from nearly every All-Star.

 

"Seeing legendary players like Ted Williams and to meet those guys and shake their hands, it's hard to explain how I felt,'' he said.

 

Cabrera, though, will not be intimidated. This is a kid who hit a home run off Clemens in Game 4 of the World Series after Clemens had knocked him down. This is a player who hit a game-ending home run in his major-league debut.

 

"It's easy to be in awe, but he wasn't in awe in the playoffs and he wasn't in the World Series,'' Lowell said. "You're bringing some clout when you get to the All-Star Game. He didn't get there because he's (21). He's there because of his home runs and RBI.

 

"People respect kids for the way they play. They'll look at him and say, 'Man, that young, imagine what he's going to be in the next four or five years.' Guys will want to get to know him.''

 

tom_dangelo@pbpost.com

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