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For stars, it's one big get-together


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Playing in the All-Star Game is great, Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza said. "But maybe the best thing," he added, "is getting to talk to other players."

Kinships are renewed in the two days here, others are begun. They'll swap stories, trade autographs, revisit prior regular-season games. As soon as they get a free moment away from the media, the players begin gathering for conversation.

Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken will talk with Minnesota Twins veteran Kirby Puckett. Piazza likes chatting with New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla. Matt Williams sat and chatted with Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.

"There are a lot of guys here I look forward to seeing," Cleveland's Dennis Martinez said, "especially this guy."

Martinez pointed the locker of Randy Johnson. "The Big Unit," Martinez said, smiling, before explaining that he and Johnson got to know each other while playing together for the Montreal Expos in 1989.

"It's good to get a chance to talk to guys, because you won't get to see these guys for a while."

John Smiley used to play with Puckett in Minnesota, and so when he was added to the All-Star team in the past week, he looked forward to seeing an old friend. "He's one of my favorite guys," Smiley said. "One of the nicest guys you ever want to meet.

"Yesterday, before batting practice, he ran over to see me, and it was great to see him."

Fred McGriff says he likes to see Ken Griffey at the All-Star Game -- mostly to see him swing the bat. "The guy is so talented," McGriff said. "To be so young and talented -- it's awesome, just to watch him."

The past two years, Florida outfielder Jeff Conine's locker has been adjacent to that of Bichette, and he listens to Bichette talk about his love for Fooseball. "This is probably the most fun," Conine said, "talking to other players in the locker room."

Boston's Mo Vaughn said McGriff was the player he wanted to talk to, because they are so similar: left-handed-hitting first basemen, who finish their swings with the bats held high over their heads. "I really want to talk about hitting with him," Vaughn said.

Piazza said: "Everybody comes here and they've got a great attitude. They can talk about things that have gone on during the season. You might've had a brawl or something, and this is a time where you can joke about it, the rivalries or confrontations on the field.

"Tomorrow, it's back to normal."

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