Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Esteban Loaiza, Jason Schmidt face off

AP , CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Chatting in the outfield a month ago during batting practice, former Pittsburgh teammates Esteban Loaiza and Jason Schmidt joked about facing each other in the All-Star game.

"Not really thinking that it would happen," Schmidt said.

"But here we are," he said Monday. "Pretty neat."

Loaiza's presence at the midsummer classic is even more remarkable, considering he went to spring training with the Chicago White Sox as a non-roster invitee and had to pitch his way onto the team.

Now he's an 11-game winner who will start for the American League today, pitching in his home ball park at US Cellular Field.

Schmidt, who helped the San Francisco Giants reach the World Series a year ago, got the NL's starting nod from his former manager Dusty Baker.

It's a reward for the way he's pitched and a thank you from Baker, now with the Chicago Cubs, for getting him to the All-Star game.

"Without Jason Schmidt, I probably wouldn't be sitting here now as the National League manager," Baker said.

Schmidt's grit and his courage in the face of personal tragedy were also factors. His mother died in April from a malignant brain tumor that had been diagnosed in spring training 2002.

In his first game back after her death, Schmidt pitched a shutout against the Cubs.

"We would not have beaten Jason Schmidt under any circumstances because he was pitching with a higher intensity and a higher power than I had ever seen before," Baker said. "I was very impressed. I've never been through it before. I might be calling him some day for tips on how to handle a death in the family."

Baker was rebounding from surgery for prostate cancer in spring 2002 when Schmidt told him his mother was ill, setting off a discussion that left the pitcher and manager closer than ever.

"Just him experiencing it in a physical way on his own helped me with what I was going to go through," said Schmidt, whose personal pain has been soothed by being on the mound.

"Just coming to the park has been my therapy through the whole thing," he added.

"Today before we walked in, we said `Hi' to each other and said, `How do you think Pittsburgh is feeling right now? We were there and now we're starting the All-Star game," Loaiza said.

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