Everyone is still talking about it. The quintessential baseball event, in the quintessential ball park. And even though I had to watch it on TV (despite my cousin's being the first base umpire), I enjoyed it enough to offer, in no particular order, the following reasons why the 1999 All-Star Game at historic Fenway Park was the best that ever was or ever will be:
- The celebrity hitting contest. What could be more fun than watching youthful Bostonian Matt Damon, all-star grand slammer Fred Lynn, and player-turned-coach Jim Rice hitting lobs from Boston's 1967 ace Jim Lonborg?
- The future all-stars game. This special weekend exhibition featured top minor leaguers teamed up as the United States players versus the International players, a matchup which spotlighted the tremendous impact foreign players will continue to have on the sport.
- Kevin Costner's introduction of the All-Century candidates. Forget the ball field in the corn; standing on the Fenway grass to present what was truly the greatest collection of baseball talent ever assembled would be any fan's dream. The moment was marred only by the crowd's rudeness toward Roger Clemens.
- The Splendid Splinter tipping his hat to the crowd. Something he never did as a player, Ted Williams' warm and genuine gesture as he rode onto the field to conclude the pre-game ceremony provided the moment that sealed this midsummer classic's claim as the best ever.
- All-stars past and present catching the spirit of the occasion. When Williams reached the mound and began greeting each of the players who had spontaneously surrounded him, they ignored the ceremony schedule to spend a few unforgettable minutes as fans.
- The prodigal Pudge catching the ceremonial first pitch. When Carlton Fisk took his position behind home plate, nearly 19 years after his bitter departure from Boston, I knew that time does indeed heal and that the future Hall of Famer would enter Cooperstown as a Red Sox after all.
- Pedro Martinez' pitching clinic. For two innings, the game was secondary. As Pedro struck out the first five batters to tie an all-star record, even victims Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had to be impressed.
- Great pitching all around. Hurlers from both teams combined for an all-star record 22 strikeouts while facing the best sluggers in the game today. It was a wonder to behold.
- Low scoring. Failing to hit even a single home run for the first time in all-star game history, batters relied on base hits and baserunning to remind us that a game can be exciting even if the ball doesn't leave the yard.
- Derek Jeter's impromptu Nomar impersonation. Garciaparra's fan appeal wasn't lost on the New York shortstop, who during his first at-bat after taking over for Garp good-naturedly mimicked his friend's trademark batter's box ritual to appreciative applause.
It doesn't get much better than this. Mark my words, long after the umpires walk out and big-name players and deep pockets owners begin their mutual off-season tantrums over money, people will be talking about the cool summer night in Boston when we were reminded that, in the words of Pete Rose, "baseball is fun."
Just my opinion.