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Cards All-Stars thrilled to reunite with La Russa

KANSAS CITY -- There was no managerial farewell tour for Tony La Russa last year, no opportunity to soak in the significance of his last moments as one of the most successful men ever to manage at baseball's highest level. La Russa didn't afford himself, or those who played for him, that opportunity, preferring to keep his future plans hushed as the Cardinals made a storied run to their 11th World Series title.

La Russa ended his tenure in St. Louis rather abruptly, though also on the highest of highs. For those who played for him, though, there was hardly a chance to properly say goodbye.

That changes this week, as several Cardinal players have descended on Kansas City with the honor of not only being an All-Star, but also with the chance to represent their organization under La Russa one more time.

"It is," as All-Star third baseman David Freese described, "borderline perfect."

Despite stepping away from the dugout after last season, La Russa, because he managed the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series, was invited back to serve as the National League's manager this summer.

"I was really bothered that I was going to miss this," La Russa noted Monday. "[I'm] very appreciative that the Commissioner has given me an invitation to be here."

The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 6:30 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on

Matt Holliday, Rafael Furcal, Lance Lynn and Freese -- the latter two owning the distinction of being first-time All-Stars -- were all members of the Cardinals' 2011 championship club and each played under La Russa for varying lengths of time.

Freese and Lynn knew no other Major League manager until this season. Furcal and La Russa's time overlapped for only three months. Holliday played under La Russa for 2 1/2 seasons.

Yadier Molina, who was selected to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, enjoyed an even longer tenure under the future Hall of Fame manager, though a death in his family kept the Cardinals catcher from spending the week in Kansas City.

"You can't beat it," Lynn said. "He's the one who brought me into the Major Leagues, and to have the opportunity to play for him in my first All-Star Game, it's a good feeling."

"I learned a lot from Tony," added Furcal. "He's one of the smartest managers I ever played for. He knows how to manage. To play for him one last time in the All-Star Game, for me, I'm so excited."

La Russa, using the concept of having a second leadoff hitter turn over the lineup, a strategy he sometimes employed in St. Louis, placed Furcal, his starting shortstop, in the ninth spot in the batting order.

St. Louis' five All-Stars -- a group that also includes Carlos Beltran, the only one never to play for La Russa -- are also looking forward to the reunion of a coaching staff. All six coaches from La Russa's 2011 club will be a part of Tuesday's All-Star Game.

That includes three who are still with the Cardinals (hitting coach Mark McGwire, third-base coach Jose Oquendo and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist), two who have since joined other NL Central clubs (Dave McKay and Joe Pettini), as well as Dave Duncan, who is currently on leave from the Cardinals.

"It's just fitting," Freese said. "To be an All-Star is great. You add the fact that Tony is managing the team with the 2011 staff and the other guys from the Cardinals that are here, and it's perfect."

As much as this bunch is looking forward to Tuesday's reunion, they are also aware that the opportunity to congregate in Kansas City is not just for sentimental purposes. No club -- well, except for perhaps the Rangers -- has as vivid an understanding of how critical home-field advantage can be in the World Series as the Cardinals.

They carried a 3-2 deficit back home to Busch Stadium last October and used that return to St. Louis as a springboard for Game 6 and 7 wins. The opportunity to close out the Fall Classic at home was a direct result of the NL's ability to win last summer's All-Star Game.

"We have first-hand knowledge of how important this game turns out to be," Holliday said. "I think [La Russa] will be very prepared and wants to win this game. It's fresh in his mind how important this game is for a National League team. Hopefully, [that will be] us."

Beltran, though he has never played in a World Series, is cognizant of this importance, too. However, it's the setting of Tuesday's exhibition contest that is particularly meaningful to the switch-hitting outfielder. It was here at Kauffman Stadium, 14 years ago, that Beltran began his career.

In his seven seasons with Kansas City, Beltran never did get the opportunity to represent the Royals in an All-Star Game. He won't this year, either, but he'll at least be able to show a city that watched him grow from promising prospect to a seven-time All-Star what he has become.

"It's a great accomplishment, honestly," Beltran said. "Being able to come back, it's a great feeling for me. I'm just happy and excited."

Beltran, who has played at Kauffman Stadium only once since being traded from the Royals in 2004, will bat fifth and start in right field for the NL club Tuesday.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Matt Holliday, Lance Lynn, Yadier Molina