DETROIT -- Don't expect Ivan Rodriguez to bemoan his first All-Star Game as a backup since 1992. He still gets to play, and with the festivities at Comerica Park, he gets to drive home after the game.

"It's always nice to be here," he said. "Being in an All-Star Game is not an easy thing to do. There's only so many players that can be in the same clubhouse, and being one of those players, it's a pleasure for me to be in there. It feels like my first. I know I've been in All-Star Games 12 times, but I'm enjoying it."

Pudge's chance at his 11th All-Star start was eliminated when Boston's Jason Varitek won the fan balloting. Rodriguez earned his reserve spot on the players ballot and ended up as the only Tiger on the team. As such, he and Tigers manager Alan Trammell are the hometown ambassadors for the first All-Star Game in Detroit since 1971.

"He's the face of the Tigers," Trammell said of Rodriguez. "He was when he signed that contract last year, and he still is. We've added some other premium players, but I think when people think of the Detroit Tigers, they think of Pudge right now, which is great. What a player. I'm honored to manage him, and I don't think there's any doubt he's a future Hall of Famer.

But it's not merely a chance to show off the rebuilt city. It's a chance to show off a rebuilt Pudge. Rodriguez's offseason workout change over the winter slimmed down his frame and increased his quickness. It was a major piece of news when Spring Training opened in Lakeland, but it's gone relatively unnoticed since the season began.

What most of the country has missed has been an altogether different game from Rodriguez. His drop in home runs was well-publicized when he was named to represent Puerto Rico in Monday's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, though he flashed his power with a tape-measure home run over the weekend at Tampa Bay. What wasn't obvious were his four triples, already tying his career high, and 23 doubles, comprising better than a quarter of his hits for the first half.

"It's helped me a lot," Rodriguez said of his workouts, "because I felt great in the first half. When you work hard and keep yourself in shape like I do every day, you're always going to finish the season strong. I think I'm in very good shape, and we'll see how the second half goes."

All-Star Game 2005

Healthwise, Rodriguez expects to be fine, but not great. He jammed the pinky finger on his left hand on a slide at home plate last week in Cleveland, and he's still dealing with a fractured bone in his right hand on a ball in the dirt from last month.

"Both hands are sore," Rodriguez said, "but let's see what I can do."