MILWAUKEE -- John Smoltz, A-Rod and all the All-Star players, it seems, are talking about No. 9. Too bad they don't mean Ted Williams.
The next baseball work stoppage would be its ninth, and that was main topic -- along with steroids -- going into Tuesday night's showcase.
''You can't come into the All-Star break and not expect to deal with it and have everything be hunky-dory,'' Houston outfielder Lance Berkman said Monday. ''Obviously, steroids and labor issues are the two dominant stories of the first half of the season.''
Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez had to agree, reluctantly.
''The thing that's frustrating is that we're not talking about the All-Star game. We're talking about all the issues that take away from the luster coming from the All-Star game.''
Commissioner Bud Selig, who lives in Milwaukee and formerly owned the Brewers, could tell things were amiss. He was booed Monday night when he presented the Home Run Derby trophy to Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees.
Earlier in the exhibition, Sammy Sosa became the first player to hit a ball completely out of Miller Park, sending a 502-foot drive through the open windows in left-center field.
But a thunder-and-lightning storm put a damper on the evening for a few fans in the sellout crowd of 41,732. The retractable roof at the 2-year-old stadium is very leaky, and Arn Tenhula, 85, had to resort to opening an umbrella in the second deck behind home plate -- even with the lid closed.
''I was hoping this wasn't going to happen on national TV,'' sighed his daughter, Janet Ewald.
The Brewers tried to excuse the flaw in their $400 million ballpark.
''It's unrealistic to have 10 acres of roof that moves and not have a drop of rain,'' said Scott Jenkins, vice president of stadium operations.
Players, meanwhile, were worried about something else.
''The guys know in the back of their minds that a strike is a possibility,'' Smoltz said. ''But you can't let it take away from these three days. You can't stop playing baseball because of the doom or gloom.''
Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was one of the few to bring up Williams, the Hall of Famer who died Friday. The Red Sox have honored the ''Splendid Splinter'' by carving his No. 9 into left field at Fenway Park.
''I lost a friend,'' Garciaparra said. ''I feel a part of him every time I step on the field.''
Baseball will pay tribute to Williams on Tuesday night. The All-Star MVP award will be named in his honor, and there will be a pregame ceremony in which his son, John Henry, and one of his daughters are expected to be on the field.
There also will be remembrances for St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile and Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck.
Pitcher Matt Morris, the only St. Louis player picked for this All-Star game, backed out during the weekend. He's struggled mentally and physically since Kile's death June 22.
''DK was a big hand in me being successful,'' said Morris, wearing a black band on his wrist with the silver initials ''DK.''
''Not having him here, or not having him watch me on TV -- you know, after the game, I was going to go to his house in San Diego that they just bought and stay with him and we were going to have a party for a couple of days -- but plans have changed,'' he said. ''This game is insignificant in the scheme of things.''
Like it or not, most everyone else found themselves talking about labor trouble in major league baseball.
''There's never been a negotiation in MLB that's ever gone smoothly,'' Gonzalez said.
Curt Schilling, who will start against Boston's Derek Lowe, tried to make light of the problems.
''I'm hoping to start the game with a strike,'' the Arizona ace said.
Schilling will throw the first pitch of the night to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki. Back when he starred in Japan, Suzuki never had to worry about labor problems because the players' union had little clout.
But Suzuki and many other major leaguers were doing a bit of scoreboard-watching -- so to speak -- on Monday. Only their eyes weren't trained on batting-practice shots shown on the video board.
Instead, their attention was focused toward suburban Chicago, where the union's executive board met. No strike date was set, but the board instead said it will ask major leaguers for the authority to call one.
''Probably all of the players are interested in what's going to happen today,'' Suzuki said earlier through a translator.
Labor talks are scheduled to resume Thursday in New York.
Making his first All-Star appearance, Oakland pitcher and player representative Barry Zito did not attend Monday's union meeting that took place about 90 minutes down the road.
''I don't really want to be talking about those issues today,'' he said. ''I just want to enjoy this.''
Alex Rodriguez, one of five shortstops on the AL roster, realized players were discussing strike dates. There's something else he hoped came up.
''I also wish the goodness of baseball was talked about and not tarnished,'' the Texas star said.
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