Speaking of the All-Star Game and heart swelling emotional baseball moments, indulge me once again as I dig on why this mid-summer event is such a vital piece of my baseball season, a happening I just can't miss. Exhibition game or not, it's a ritual that marks time for me.
For all of us, mid-summer means the Fourth of July and the mid-way point of the Major League marathon. It also signaled, once upon a time, that summer vacation was almost over -- and the inevitable start of a new school year was very near. I can remember where I was by recalling the All-Star calendar:
1973: I was with my grandfather in his tiny Jersey Shore living room, watching as the game beamed from a brand new Royals Stadium in Kansas City. The lineup featured the likes of Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver,Joe Torre, Carlton Fisk, and Rod Carew.
1994: Working at a summer theater in Connecticut, I'd exit the stage and run to a black and white TV set in the cast greenroom to catch any snippet of the game I could. The broadcast flickered that summer from Three Rivers, with Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza,Lee Smith, Lenny Dykstra, Kirby Puckett and Cal Ripken, Jr., on hand. I have always felt false as a fan; if I miss the All-Star Game, it's like I'm betraying an old friend at their finest hour. I feel incomplete if I miss those pre-game, opening player introductions. The role call has always been one of my favorite moments of the entire season, because there's something so inspiring about seeing players from all the different cities and teams, the best of the best, trot out to the first and third baselines.
The newcomer. The familiar face. The unfamiliar face. The kid there for the first time. The wily veteran honored again in his twilight. With the camera up close, their faces popped out of the television screen, connecting me with them as people in those few simple seconds while the stadium announcer bellowed their names with emphasis.
Although the rivalry of American League versus National League was ripe and fundamental, these close-ups communicated confident men at ease, as if the pause at mid-season was something they too acknowledged, as we all came together --fan, player, present and past -- celebrating our mutual love and appreciation for each other and for the game itself, in one of those personal, heart-swelling, gooseflesh moments.
And whether we're senior circuit rooters or junior circuit supporters, we fans from various loyalties who do battle on a weekly basis during the regular 162 game season now, ironically, come together as one. Sox fans root for Pinstripes. Dodgers and Padres fans unite. Twins and Tigers. Cardinals and Cubs. The victory of your perspective League, according to the loyalty of your fandom and region, takes precedence over ancient intra-division rivalries for one glorious night, putting aside differences and histories for the greater good of the sport.
Fred Lynn once told me, "It's the one game during the season that everyone is watching, and so it was important to beat the National League, as we were very competitive back then."
Though the rivalry has changed a bit and now the competition is for home-field advantage in the World Series, the meaning of being the best of the very best has not.
"I am proud of my accomplishments during that game, Fred said, "As it proved I was worthy of being an All Star."
The pride I feel as a fan and the emotion that fills me when I watch those selected is mirrored ten-fold by the players who don the uniform. Their proud faces still move me through the television screen, reminding me to reach higher and go deeper in my own life, and that we should all strive to be the best and do the best, whatever your passion or profession may be-- because it matters. So I can't miss it. I just can't. And I never will.