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A frenzied finish caps a long wait to All-Star glory for Brandon High's Chone Figgins

ST. LOUIS — For weeks, he had been watching footage of old All-Star Games on television. Which, when you think about it, is not the act of a man playing it cool. Chone Figgins desperately wanted a spot on the All-Star team, and he didn't care who knew.

So it was bothersome when the fan voting was completed, and the Angels leadoff hitter finished eighth among AL third basemen. He was disappointed again when players failed to elect him, and when he came up short in the Sprint Final Man Vote.

He wasn't named when Torii Hunter dropped out, or Dustin Pedroia, either. So, by the time he went to bed Monday, the Brandon High graduate had used up all the hope that had existed.

Less than 24 hours later, Chone Figgins was an All-Star.

All it took was an infected finger, a mini manhunt, a meeting at the airport, a four-hour flight and a police escort through the streets of St. Louis, and Figgins was walking into the clubhouse at Busch Stadium 30 minutes before player introductions. One of his first official acts as a big-league All-Star was to hug Rays manager Joe Maddon.

Figgins, 31, is the first Tampa Bay-area product to make an All-Star team since Plant City's Kenny Rogers and Hernando's Bronson Arroyo in 2006.

"It was all pretty surreal," said Angels vice president of communications Tim Mead, who delivered the news to Figgins by phone Tuesday morning. "He has somebody wake him up and ask him if he wants to play in the All-Star Game in St. Louis that night."

Figgins got his opportunity when Rays third baseman Evan Longoria had to pull out Tuesday morning because antibiotics had failed to clear up an infection in his finger. Maddon had made the decision the night before that Figgins would be the replacement, so MLB executive Phyllis Merhige called Mead and asked him to check on Figgins.

The only problem was Mead couldn't find him. He kept calling Figgins' cell phone, but there was no answer. Mead tried Braves outfielder Garret Anderson, a longtime Angels star. Anderson suggested calling Figgins' best friend Keith Johnson, the manager of the Angels' Class A team in Rancho Cucamonga.

Johnson was finally able to track down Figgins and get him on the phone with Mead at about 11 a.m. Eastern.

"I said, 'Do you want to play in the All-Star Game,' " Mead said. "And he said, 'Absolutely.' "

That was the easy part. The rest of the day was a scramble on both ends of the country. Figgins called his mother, Eva Callins, in Brandon and arranged for her and his stepfather to fly to St. Louis. Mead called the Angels equipment manager and had him go to the stadium in Anaheim to pack a uniform and equipment and get it to LAX. Tom Taylor, the team's travelling secretary, began looking for a way to get Figgins from Orange County in California to St. Louis.

"We looked briefly into getting a private plane, but it was going to take too long to get a crew together and file flight plans," Taylor said. "It was just easier to book a commercial flight."

Considering traffic heading to the game and increased security because of President Barack Obama's visit, it still wasn't easy to get Figgins to the stadium. Major League Baseball arranged for a police escort to pick up Figgins at the airport, and he got to the clubhouse at 6:30 (Central), which was just in time to take part in pregame ceremonies.

"I'm sure the adrenalin makes up for being tired," Maddon said.

For Figgins, the entire day makes up for a career of near misses. He has been one of the league's most versatile and dynamic players for a half-dozen seasons but has never caught a whiff of an All-Star Game.

He thought this season would be different. He was in the top 10 in the AL in batting average and on-base percentage. He was fourth in stolen bases and first in runs scored. He told anyone who would listen that the All-Star Game was his dream.

"That's center stage. It doesn't get any better," Figgins told while voting was still going on. "Once you're an All-Star, it never changes. You're always an All-Star."

After the day he had on Tuesday, Figgins has his own little part of All-Star lore.

A frenzied finish caps a long wait to All-Star glory for Brandon High's Chone Figgins 07/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 6:38am]
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