- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NEW YORK | Billy Wagner heard it from all sides.

Giants reliever Brian Wilson talked about admiring the New York Mets closer when he was playing in college. Braves star Chipper Jones made sure Wagner knew he was the oldest All-Star on the National League team.

“I gotta make myself feel better that I’m not the oldest one here,” Jones said.

Wagner, who turns 37 on July 25, was the oldest player on both rosters for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Not that it mattered to him.

“I think over the long haul you look and go, ‘Man, I’ve been here for a while, and I’m still here,´” he said. “It starts to be a compliment more than somebody kind of saying something negative.”

Wagner had 22 saves and a 2.31 ERA in the first half, earning his second straight All-Star selection and sixth overall. He was looking forward to talking shop with the rest of the relievers in the bullpen.

“Just kind of get an idea of how they feel about how this goes and how the whole relieving aspect goes,” Wagner said. “It’s fun.”

Wagner also has big plans for Wednesday night - a trip to the White House to have dinner with President Bush. “Still wondering how that came about,” he cracked.

Jones, the third-oldest player in the game behind Boston catcher Jason Varitek, also was enjoying his first All-Star appearance since 2001.

“Last time I was one of the youngest,” the 36-year-old Jones said before signing a jersey for Colorado’s Matt Holliday. “Crazy.”

Stopper’s row

In the AL’s clubhouse - the Yankees’ home the rest of the year - is the All-Stars that could stop the most confident hitters: five of the best closers in baseball, starting with Mariano Rivera in his walk-in corner locker.

“You start down the row here. There’s got to be a thousand saves,” said Francisco Rodriguez, leading the majors with 38 saves.

The Angels closer was close. The bunch has 980 saves, topped by Rivera’s 466 - 23 this season.

Along the right wall, Minnesota’s Joe Nathan (27 saves) is next to Rivera. To his left is Kansas City’s Joakim Soria (25), Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon (28) and Rodriguez.

The one closer who was separated from his brethren is Baltimore’s George Sherrill (28). He’s changing next to his old Seattle teammate Ichiro Suzuki.

“Ichi asked for me, and I asked for a locker next to him,” Sherrill said. “I guess ‘cause I’d be the only [Suzuki teammate]. He asked for me. I was his teammate, and we had a lot of fun.”

Hotel visitor

Josh Hamilton awoke the day after his dreamlike performance in the Home Run Derby and turned on the TV in his hotel room and found the end of the movie “The Natural” playing.

Just then he received a visitor. It was time for a random drug test.

“Right when [Robert Redford’s character] was about to hit the home run, the pee guy came in,” Hamilton said. “I said, ‘Hold on. I’ve got to watch this.’”

Lincecum ill

Tim Lincecum was hospitalized with flulike symptoms, preventing the young San Francisco Giants star from attending his first All-Star Game.

Lincecum was taken from his hotel to New York Presbyterian Hospital after feeling ill early in the day, said Katy Feeney, senior vice president in the commissioner’s office.

The right-hander was released later in the afternoon after getting treatment for flulike symptoms and dehydration, the Giants said about 45 minutes before the start of the game.

“He’s resting comfortably,” team spokesman Matt Chisholm said.

Lincecum’s locker at Yankee Stadium between National League starter Ben Sheets and Edinson Volquez was untouched before the game. His jersey and a Giants hat hung on a hook on the wall as his NL teammates milled around.

Giants reliever Brian Wilson, dressing half a dozen lockers away, said he hadn’t spoken to Lincecum, who also missed the All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade.

Paying homage

Plenty of All-Stars talked about a pilgrimage to Monument Park this week, the historic site just past the outfield wall at Yankee Stadium where some say the ghosts of Ruth, DiMaggio and Gehrig still reside.

But only the American League side, dressing in the home clubhouse, could pay homage to Thurman Munson’s locker shrine.

Two down from where Yankees captain Derek Jeter dresses, Munson’s locker remains empty 29 years after the All-Star catcher was killed in a plane crash practicing takeoffs and landings near his Ohio home. It’s a monument that a fortunate few are able to visit and rarely those who regularly dress in Red Sox red.

“I looked at Munson’s locker, of course,” catcher Jason Varitek said. “Derek pointed it out to me. … I thought it was pretty cool.”

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