Moment with Williams `chance of lifetime'

Players savor ceremony with Red Sox legend

All-Star Game notebook

July 14, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The Colorado Rockies' Larry Walker took a handful of grass as a memento of his visit to Fenway Park. Every player will take something more lasting: The memory of surrounding Hall of Famer Ted Williams on the mound as he prepared to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 70th All-Star Game last night.

Driven to the infield on a cart because of a series of strokes in recent years, Williams had tears in his eyes as players came over to shake his hand, pat his shoulder and steal a few seconds of conversation. Members of the All-Century Team joined in, as well. An official requested that everyone return to the dugout, but was waved off by Rafael Palmeiro.

"This was the chance of a lifetime," said Palmeiro, the Texas Rangers first baseman and former Oriole. "To me, that was a big moment in a lot of players' careers. I felt we should let it go on as long as we could.

"To be around him was an emotional time. It was great to be with a legend. I was very proud."

"There were a lot of guys out there who could have teared up," said St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire.

Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken was supposed to assist the Red Sox legend from the cart but never got the chance. "I couldn't do it. He was swarmed," Ripken said.

Williams, 80, who also threw out the first pitch in the 1961 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, was overcome by the ovation from the sellout crowd.

"I can only describe it as great," he said. "It didn't surprise me that much because I know how these fans are in Boston. They love this game as much as any players, and Boston's lucky to have the faithful Red Sox fans. They're the best."

Showdown is no-show

National League catcher Mike Piazza stood on deck, on the verge of getting another crack at pitcher Pedro Martinez. Perhaps Piazza would have experienced a flashback in the All-Star Game, which no doubt would have made his heart race and his hand throb.

Piazza's last experience with his former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate, in a June 1998 game at Fenway Park, left him hurt and disturbed enough to fire off a few verbal shots at the Boston Red Sox ace. Martinez knocked Piazza from the three-game series with a fastball that bruised his hand, leading to an angry exchange and accusations of revenge.

Piazza reportedly didn't get along with Martinez's brother, Ramon, when they were paired in Los Angeles. Told that the New York Mets' catcher believed the inside pitch was a form of payback, Pedro Martinez cursed Piazza.

Which led to last night's potential reunion in the second inning. Martinez was the American League's starter. Piazza, batting seventh for the NL, was moments away from strolling to the plate.

Thoughts of last year's incident were inevitable, but tempers never flared. They never got the chance. As Jeff Bagwell struck out swinging for the second out, AL catcher Ivan Rodriguez threw out Matt Williams trying to steal.

So much for the drama. The New York Yankees' David Cone replaced Martinez to begin the third inning, and one of the game's most intriguing matchups never materialized.

"I never said it was intentional," Piazza said. "I think a lot of it was just animosity on my part. No one likes getting hit. It was my first series in Boston. I thought he broke my hand. I was obviously frustrated. I just said that probably because in the American League there's a designated hitter, so he takes a little more liberties."

Take me out, coach

AL manager Joe Torre marveled at how many of the players on his roster had no qualms about leaving the game early if it meant freeing up space for others.

"I asked Cal [Ripken] when he wanted to come out," Torre said, "and he said, `I've played in so many of these, get somebody in there who hasn't.' It's great that these guys are All-Stars for more than just their ability."

Surhoff is his man

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Shawn Green chose the Orioles' B. J. Surhoff as the player he most looked forward to being around.

"You can tell what a pro he is," Green said. "You can see why he's such a good hitter."

Green, who batted .327 with 25 homers and 70 RBIs in the first half, also had one of the best stories to tell from his first All-Star experience. It involved his brush with greatness -- a conversation with Williams.

"Ted Williams said he really likes the way I hit. That's the biggest compliment I ever received," Green said. "Maybe he was just being nice, but I'll think of it the other way."

Banned in Boston

Surhoff said he had wanted to sign with the Red Sox as a free agent after the 1995 season before agreeing to a three-year deal with the Orioles.

"We made a couple of phone calls here but they were rescinded," he said. "There was no dialogue. I was disappointed in their decision-making process because they said they wanted another guy and wouldn't even talk to me."

Sosa's Fenway memory

Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa holds a fond memory of Fenway Park. This is where he hit his first major-league home run, on June 21, 1989.

In only his sixth major-league game.

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