Fenway elevates a perfect All-Star scene

July 14, 1999|By John Eisenberg

BOSTON -- It's never the game. No one remembers the details of baseball's All-Star Game from year to year. Who won last year? Three years ago? Who cares?

It's the moments that make the event. The frozen moments are what you remember. Rose crashing into Fosse. Reggie hitting a ball onto the roof at Tiger Stadium.

Now we can add some new moments to the list. Last night's All-Star Game at Fenway Park was unforgettable in many ways.

It was the last All-Star Game of the century and probably also the last at Fenway, and it more than lived up to the occasion.

If it wasn't the best All-Star night in years, it was close.

A stirring pre-game ceremony involving dozens of Hall of Famers left the sellout crowd limp and many current All-Stars crying like Little Leaguers.

"That was emotional stuff out there, just awesome," National League outfielder Larry Walker said.

The start of the game was almost a letdown, but not when American League starter Pedro Martinez, pitching in a frenzy in front of his hometown fans, became the first All-Star pitcher in history to start the game with four straight strikeouts.

"What an act to follow," said National League starter Curt Schilling.

But even it couldn't match the pre-game ceremony for sheer emotion.

"It was like `Field of Dreams' or something out there," the Indians' Jim Thome said.

It started with a promotion, sponsored by a credit card company, giving fans a chance to select an All-Century team from a list of 100 top players. Several dozen were introduced before the game last night, walking in slowly from center field to a standing ovation.

Call it a first cousin to the last game at Memorial Stadium eight years ago, which the Orioles turned into a hazy, tearful lovefest.

Brooks and Frank Robinson were back on the field, as were Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt and others. The legends players lined up on the base paths from first to third, opposite the 1999 All-Star teams, which were introduced and lined up along the first and third base lines. The present facing the past.

Then, in a moment few will forget, Red Sox legend Ted Williams was driven in from the outfield on a golf cart, to the loudest ovation of all. When he reached the mound, the past and present stars broke from their places and gathered around him, paying tribute to a man often regarded as the game's greatest hitter.

"I'm kind of an emotional guy," Walker said, "and when I got up there and saw that there were tears in Ted's eyes, I had to look away. That's the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, surrounded by other great hitters. What an honor to be standing on that field."

The players mingled on the field for several minutes, exchanging handshakes, embraces and even autographs.

"To be honest, the game could wait," Palmeiro said. "That was a chance of a lifetime. I didn't realize we were going to gather around Ted like that. I was proud to be on the field."

Boston's Nomar Garciaparra said, "I think we all appreciated the game at that point, that there's a history and tradition we're all part of."

Williams, debilitated by a stroke, then stood up with the help of several players and threw the ceremonial first pitch -- on the fly to Carlton Fisk, who raised his hands in triumph as the crowd roared again.

There was so much history in the air that you almost felt like a time traveler.

"All the All-Star games are unique," Cal Ripken said. "But with the significance of Fenway Park, this one has to rank right up there."

Actually, the possible, impending demise of Fenway lent a melancholy touch to the night. The Sox and baseball "commissioner" Bud Selig didn't help with their blatant campaigning for a new, faux Fenway over the past two days, topped off last night with the public address announcer advising fans to buy a program "commemorating the last All-Star Game at Fenway Park," as if the wrecking ball were coming through today.

The reality is there are still no concrete plans for the Sox to move into a Fenway II in the next five years, forsaking tradition for a better bottom line. The usual coalition of politicians, romantics and grumps are fighting it. It'll happen in the end, sure, but there's still a long way to go, and labeling last night's game as Fenway's final Midsummer Classic was a declaration of victory before the war was over or even underway.

The Sox need a new park, no doubt. That's just a reality. And as Camden Yards proved, you can replace the old with the new and keep your history.

But it was still kind of unseemly to watch everyone give Fenway, of all places, a premature burial at an All-Star Game.

Anyway, players on both sides obviously were deeply moved by the chance to play the All-Star Game here. Walker tore out a clump of the outfield grass. McGwire and Palmeiro said they'd do the same.

"So many glories of baseball in one place," Pedro Martinez said.

"A career highlight," Palmeiro said.

The game. The Hall of Famers. Ted Williams. Fenway. What moments. What a night.

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