Pressure’s on Uggla to make All-Star team – by Ken Rosenthal

ken.jpgNot there’s any pressure, but if Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla fails to make the National League All-Star team, he’s going to hear it from his father, John.

“One of his dreams is to see me play in Yankee Stadium,” Dan says. “That’s where he always used to watch games as a kid. He’s been ragging me all year about trying to make this All-Star team.”

Uggla, who leads the majors with 23 homers, should have no problem fulfilling his father’s wishes. Phillies second baseman Chase Utley leads all NL vote-getters, but an investigation will be warranted if Uggla is not chosen as a reserve.

The only NL players who have a higher OPS than Uggla are Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols. Not bad, considering that Uggla was batting .188 on April 19, looking nothing at all like an All-Star.

“It was over on the 15th of April,” John says. “I thought, ‘There goes the Yankee Stadium trip.’ But he never says die. He’s been like that his whole career. Something clicks. He gets the competitive juices going. And he finds a way to get it done.”

John Uggla, 61, lives in Columbia, Tenn., but grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., 145 miles north of New York City. His grandfather, John Ryder, was a huge Yankees fan. From about 1952 to ’58, when the Ugglas moved to Indiana, the family would take a three-hour-plus train ride to Grand Central Station, then hop on the No. 4 train to Yankee Stadium at least twice a year.

A half-century later, the memories remain indelible.

“When you’re 6-, 7-. 8-years old, you’re just in awe, as we all are of these guys,” John says. “Just sitting there — Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin . . . those are the guys you think about. I had a gazillion Mickey Mantle cards. That was the team.”

So, as Dan progressed from Columbia Central H.S. to the University of Memphis to the Arizona Diamondbacks as an 11th round draft pick — and then to the Marlins as a steal in the Rule 5 draft—John began to imagine him playing at Yankee Stadium.

John thought the moment would happen in 2006, Dan’s rookie season with the Marlins. But Dan suffered a right hamstring strain in Baltimore at the start of that trip and missed the entire series in New York. The Marlins have not returned to the Bronx since.

The All-Star Game, then, represents Dan’s last chance to play in “The House that Ruth Built” — unless, of course, the Marlins play the Yankees in the World Series, reprising their matchup from 2003.

“For him to play, to get on the field, play an inning at Yankee Stadium . . . I get all teared up thinking about it now,” John says.

“Even if he someday ends up with the Yankees, he’s not going to play in Yankee Stadium. He still has a shot at playing at Fenway. Of course he has played at Wrigley. But this is it. Either he makes it, or it’s never going to happen.”

Uggla, 28, currently ranks fourth among NL second basemen in the fan balloting, behind Utley, the Cubs’ Mark DeRosa and the Astros’ Kaz Matsui. DeRosa, though, is more of a super-utility player than a regular second baseman. Matsui, meanwhile, went on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a strained right hamstring.

Neither compares with Uggla, who is third in the NL with 24 doubles and on pace to hit 48 homers, a total that would break Davey Johnson’s record of 42 by a second baseman in 1973 (Johnson also had one home run as a pinch-hitter that season).

Uggla says the chances of the record falling are “pretty realistic” — for Utley, whose 22 homers also put him on pace to surpass Johnson.

“He’s a way more consistent hitter than I am,” Uggla says. “Chase when he gets on one of those runs, he can pop off five, six or seven in five days. He’s already halfway there. I’ll put my money on him.”

Uggla’s own chances?

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m so damn streaky, who knows?”

For now, the All-Star Game is a more reasonable goal. Uggla’s family would fly in from all over the country. His parents are divorced and re-married. His brother, Mike, 31, lives in Chicago. His sister Jane, 24, lives in Benicia, Calif.

John Uggla, who worked 30 years as a technical instructor for General Electric and still teaches as a part-time contractor, keeps telling Dan, “Hang in there. Let’s go now. You’re on track. This is our chance, this is it.”

Not that there’s any pressure, Dan …

“It’s on the top of my mind,” John Uggla says. “If you didn’t grow up in that era, you may not understand.

“It would be the ultimate . . . the pinnacle.”

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