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July 15, 2008: All-Star I Was There

One of the things I relish most about experiencing baseball live and in person is the ever-present possibility that I might see something special. Maybe something that’s never been done. Maybe something historic. Everyday baseball is full of possibilities like that. Postseason baseball of course creates special opportunities for it. And the All-Star Game produces a unique set of circumstances that pretty much nearly guarantees something special.

Put the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium, in the final year of the building’s existence, and you create an even more unique situation.

But ultimately it was the play on the field that distinguished the 79th All Star Game as an unbelievable “I-was-there!” experience.

And yes, I was there.

The details of the game will be analyzed and recorded in a thousand places. I know because not only did they have to build an auxiliary press box in the outfield loge (like they do for the postseason), they built a third one around section 20 in the upper deck, way up under the roof. So perhaps I should not even try to detail all the amazing things that happened…

But then I think that so many of the reporters there are limited to a certain number of column inches. How many of them won’t even mention Ichiro’s amazing throw from the right field corner to nail the batter trying for second? More of them will probably mention that Dan Uggla set a new record for the most errors in an All Star Game, racking up three (and also striking out three times and grounding into a double play).

I should back up first, I suppose, and say a few words about the FanFest that went on down at the Jacob Javits Center. corwin and I slept late, then headed out after a terrific breakfast of bagels and lox courtesy of our gracious hostess (who would join us at the game later). We decided that what might seem like a high price to pay to park at the Stadium (thirty bucks) actually seemed reasonable for all-day parking in New York, so we drove to our favorite lot (which was already open at 12 noon) and parked, and then took the D train from the Stadium down to midtown.

FanFest might best be termed Tchotchke Fest. The sheer amount of stuff we acquired might require a blog entry of its own. Actually, I’m sure that it will – suffice to say that by 5pm we were tired out and laden with many bags of goodies. We made our way back to the Bronx and put all the stuff in the trunk, then still had time to grab some excellent Dominican food before going into the Stadium.

For a while I was worried that the game itself was going to be overshadowed by the pregame buildup. For this grand sendoff for Yankee Stadium, they did a special pregame introduction, position by position, of all the living Hall of Fame players. So that meant the Yankees like Reggie and Yogi and Goose (who’ll be inducted next month), but also Bill Mazeroski, and Henry Aaron, and Luis Aparicio, and even Earl Weaver.

Even Lee MacPhail, who I hadn’t even realized was still alive. MacPhail was the architect of some seven World Series championships and I think also served as president of the American League. I’m writing this entry in the car at 3am on the way home from the game, so I have no Internet to check my facts with, and hardly any brain to recall them with in the first place.

Sheryl Crow sang the National Anthem. And there were four ceremonial first pitches, from the four living Hall of Famers whose plaques feature a Yankees hat, Yogi, Reggie, Whitey Ford, and Goose. They were caught by the four Yankee All-Stars of this year: Jeter, A-rod, Mariano, and Joe Girardi, who was on hand as a coach.

A B-2 Spiirt Bomber did the flyover at the end of the anthem and was pretty nifty.

There were huge cheers for anything Yankee-related, and boos so loud for Manny and Papelbon that the concrete under my feet vibrated. Papelbon apparently mouthed off in the preceding 24 hours that he, and not Mariano Rivera, ought to close the game. That’s patently ridiculous for a number of reasons, and even the New York setting and the respect due to Mariano for other reasons aside, Mo’s numbers this season alone blow Papelbon’s out of the water. 23 for 23 in save situations, and until a week ago had not allowed any runs at all in those saves.

As things turned out, with the game going into an extra innings situation in which each manager was down to the last pitcher in his bullpen, no one got a save at all. Papelbon got booed roundly and was greeted during his mound appearance with chants of “Mari-ano!”

During the first inning, the Bleacher Creatures did the roll call for three men only: Derek Jeter, A-rod, and Bobby Murcer.

In keeping with the All-Star theme, and things like bringing out all the Hall of Fame players… during the traditional “YMCA” dragging of the infield the actual VILLAGE PEOPLE came out and performed it! There were a lot of little touches throughout the game which were purely Yankee Stadium. They did the “match game” but with All Stars instead of Yankees (though of course it was Alex Rodriguez whose face they were looking for), but there was no Cap Game. There was Cotton Eye Joe in the 8th, but no Subway Race.

While I’m on the topic of the scoreboard, I have to say that the scoreboard department did not acquit themselves like All Stars. I can only assume that various things were impeding their normally flawless work, like maybe the plethora of All Star media and rightsholders, and all the out-of-routine things that had to happen at various times. There were a few times when the wrong stats appeared on the board, things like that. The worst night, though, was had by Jim Hall, the announcer, who has been Bob Sheppard’s understudy for many years and who has been doing all the announcing since Sheppard fell ill.

He mangled several names, calling Justin Morneau “Monroe,” and getting Justin Duchscherer’s name utterly wrong. He also had trouble following the game at times, announcing the next batter when the original batter had only gone to get another bat after a foul ball broke his—things like that. All the substitutions were a problem for him, too. Apparently, I could follow the changes better just by watching, without the aid of any scorecard (or even any idea who half the national league players were), than he could.

But the game!

The game. For a long time the AL just couldn’t get any offense going. They had given up single runs twice, and with the score 2-0 going into the seventh, J.D. Drew hit a two run shot to tie things up. But Papelbon gave up a run to huge disapproving boos, and it took a rally in the bottom of the eighth, including an RBI double from Evan Longoria, to even the score again.

That meant there would be no save situation. Because just a simple win with a Mariano save simply wasn’t a good enough story for the final All Star Game in Yankee Stadium. No. Instead, an epic battle that included amazing defense (making up for horrible defense), incredible pitching, and the total exhaustion (pun intended) of both rosters ensued, which would turn out to be the longest All Star Game by clock time by a wide margin, and would tie for the longest at 15 innings.

In the end, Terry Francona had to pitch Scott Kazmir, who was supposed to not be used, and Clint Hurdle was down to the closer he had saved until the end, Brad Lidge. Kazmir would get the win, Lidge the loss, when the AL finally managed to push across a run. It was 1:37 in the morning, and we had already sung Take Me Out to the Ballgame twice by then (the 14th Inning Stretch) AND had a second round of Cotton Eye Joe.

Huh, I totally forgot to mention Josh Groban’s totally smarmy rendition of God Bless America. Ronan Tynan can beat you black and blue any day of the week, Groban.

There’s more to say but I’m starting to nod off. And I had better take a nap, since in another 50 miles or so, I’ll have to drive. Suffice to say it was well worth the high price of admission when such an amazing game is played!

Home now—it’s six a.m.–and I’m going to sleep… thankfully today and tomorrow, too, are off days for the Yankees! zzzzzzzz….

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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