All Text by David Nevard
Paul Valleli Photo
We got to the Hynes Convention Center at 9 a.m. with Norman's two six-year-old sons and spent five hours at Fanfest. In the Rookie League section the boys hit off tees. Then all of us formed a team and played Yardball, a two-inning four-person game with a plastic bat and a perforated plastic ball. Yardball has appeared as a competitor to the venerable Wiffleball, and they're having tournaments around the country.
There was a big astroturf Yardball field here with fences, foul lines, and an announcer. I was pitching and gave up a mammoth home run to the other team's Dad. We were overmatched -- their kids were bigger than our kids -- and we lost the game but had a great time.
Then there was a great "steal home" race where friends and family could compete against each other. The boys were too small (under 48 inches) to face some of the pitching machines, but we stood in line for some other games with prizes -- throw the ball to a catcher's mitt, hit the ball at a target, and complete a double play.
Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans gave a talk and a hitting clinic for the kids. One of the most interesting points they made was about hitting off a tee. When you hit off a tee, don't stand even with it, said Yaz. You don't hit the ball when it's over the plate, you hit it before it gets to the plate. So you should move a couple of steps back. Dewey said his tee at home had a home plate, and the base of the tee extended out in front of it.
They had kids of different ages hitting off tees and sometimes Yaz or Dewey would make just a slight adjustment and the kid would start hitting the ball much better. They didn't try to change anyone's stance; what they mostly concentrated on was keeping your eye on the ball all the way through the swing.
There was a whole lot of Fanfest that we missed. In particular, the
Rawlings exhibit (which I saw when Fanfest was here a few years ago) would
have been fun -- they show you how they make bats and balls. But it was
too crowded for the little guys to see. One hall held "grownup" exhibits
from the Hall of Fame, Negro Leagues, and other historical exhibits. Then
there was a huge memorabilia flea market. This is baseball's "red light
district", where tawdry dreams are sold -- we just walked through it with
our eyes focused straight ahead, trying not to look at all the tempting
stuff we knew we didn't need.
After that we found our way over to the Nintendo section, where they had a couple dozen huge TV screens with baseball games going and lines of kids waiting in line to play. You could choose real major league players and real major league ballparks. Everyone playing had that familiar glassy Nintendo stare. An earthquake could have rocked the convention center, and as long the electricity stayed on, no one would have moved away from Nintendo.
Since one brother had won a hat at the Turn-the Double Play game, the
other brother had to win a plastic bat at Nintendo Home Run Derby. He hit
10 home runs in one game and won the bat. Could it be a coincidence that
Nintendo owns the Mariners and their baseball game is called Ken Griffey
Jr.'s Slugfest? The boys could have played Nintendo all day, but by this
time (2:00 pm) Norman and I were getting tired, cranky and hungry. So we
dragged them off to get some lunch.
Matt Damon at the Plate. Paul Valleli photo.
The celebrities included actors Kevin Costner & Matt Damon, football star Doug Flutie, retired jocks Steve Garvey, Rico Petrocelli, George Brett, Andre Dawson, and the old Sox outfield of Rice, Lynn, and Evans. There were four teams trying to accumulate points by hitting into zones. Jim Rice got the most points, including a couple of home runs.
Serrano warming up for the World. Paul Valleli photo
The second event was the Futures game, with minor league players divided into United States vs. the World. The World won the game fairly easily, and local fans got to see the brilliant pitcher Tony Armas, Jr., who was Red Sox property briefly -- acquired from the Yankees for Mike Stanley, then traded to Montreal as part of the deal for Pedro Martinez.
Hey now, you're an All Star, get your game on, go play
Hey now, you're a Rock Star, get the show on, get paid,
And all that glitters is gold
Only shootin stars break the mold.
Every inch of Fenway Park seemed to be decorated with flag bunting and additional advertising. You might say, "The grand old gal still knows how to put on a party!" Or you might say the old gal was wearing a little too much makeup. It all depends on your point of view.
This was billed as All-Star Workout Day, the premise being that the All Stars were practicing for tomorrow's big game, and by the way, the boys just might be feeling frisky enough to engage in a little home run contest. Those arriving early could see batting practice, but unfortunately for those of us in the bleachers, there were hardly any major leaguers shagging flies in the outfield. Everyone was wearing their special All Star "futuristic" sleeveless jerseys in red or blue, with the player's name running illegibly down the side. The jerseys bore a suspicious resemblance to the shirts worn by the Aramark popcorn vendors. Anyway, when we were able to read the names, most of the people in the outfield turned out to be coaches, bullpen catchers, and coaches' sons. Jeff Kent was out there, though.
The Red Sox bullpen was covered over with plywood to make an elevated stage for the band Smashmouth, whose current big hit is a song called "All Star" (get it?). The chorus goes like this:
They played that song and one other. The audience -- in the bleachers anyway -- seemed quite familiar with Smashmouth, and enjoyed their music despite the echoing sound system. In between songs, lead singer Steve Harwell tried to pump up the crowd by yelling, "Save Fenway Park!". He was greeted with a chorus of boos. Somewhat taken aback, Harwell looked up at the park's advertising signage. "Dunkin Donuts!" he yelled. Mediocre repsonse.
Harwell turned to his roadies for something that would get a cheer in Boston. One more try: "Nomar!" Wild cheers and applause.
Pope Peter Gammons was not amused by "Save Fenway Park" or the fact that Harwell was wearing a Giants shirt. In his next Sunday column the Gray Eminence grumped that the Sox should have hired local blues singer Susan Tedeschi , a "more legitimate performer."
The commercialism matched anything we had ever seen. There were enough blimps and biplanes in the air over Fenway to worry an air traffic controller. Mastercard had ads on the foul poles! Century 21 had an ad on the screen above the left field wall! The park announcer, Sean McDonough (not heard on TV), seemed to be getting paid by the number of times he could say "Century 21" and especially "Mastercard".
Parking in the neighborhood was $50. The most enterprising scheme we
saw was a plastic ticket protector with a lanyard you wear around your
neck. Apparently the purpose was to a) preserve your ticket, and b) make
you look like someone with press credentials. Prices ranged from $4 to
The first round of Home Run Derby would be American vs National League, 4 vs. 4. There is precious little spirit of League rivalry left in baseball, certainly not as much as in 1933 when the All Star Game was invented. Interleague play has diluted the rivalry, but interleague trading has made the real difference. Years ago even when star players were traded, they rarely went to the other league. Both trading rules and sentiment kept Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Cronin, Lefty Grove, and Dizzy Dean as drawing cards for their own league even when they changed teams. To show how times have changed, today's famous NL big guns were both products of the American League organizations - Sammy Sosa from Texas and the White Sox, Mark McGwire from the Athletics. And Jeff Bagwell... well, we know that story.
The American League was woefully under-represented at Home Run Derby. Jose Canseco, the major league leader in home runs, had been promoting a mighty showdown with Big Mac and Sammy, but injured his back just days before the All Star game, and went to surgery instead. "Igor" Gonzalez of Texas let it be known that if the fans didn't elect him to be one of the starters, he didn't feel like showing up at all. He wasn't elected (though he deserved to be), and AL manager Joe Torre granted his wish by not naming him to the team. Albert Belle, in his latest (Baltimore) funk, didn't make the team either. This raises an interesting question _ why don't they just invite the biggest sluggers to the HR Derby, whether they're on the All-Star team or not? The AL could have used Mo Vaughn, for instance.
Well, if you're going to put on a show, put on a SHOW. For the introductions
we had the wrestling announcer who says "Let's get Rrrready to Rrrrrumble!"
Jeff Bagwell in action
Boston-born Jeff Bagwell hit 5 homers in the first round, prompting comments like, "We could have been watching this every night." Nobody thought that B.J. Surhoff belonged in a home run contest, and he proved them right. Larry Walker showed that it's not easy to hit home runs on cue. Nomar Garciaparra, the token Red Sox, hit two homers and sat down. Sammy Sosa was terrible, hitting just one dinger while making 10 outs. Jeromy Burnitz was the big surprise, an unknown lefthanded hitter from Milwaukee, hitting six taters.
Mark McGwire's performance is what everyone will remember. He hit 13 homers in the first round, but it wasn't just the quantity, it was the quality of the blasts that rocked the crowd. They were long, long, very long home runs. They weren't big pop flies, either, but had a flat arc that seemed to be climbing as the ball left the yard. One hit the top of the light tower. Most landed out in Lansdowne Street amid a mob of souvenir hunters. Some went to the rooftop parking lot across the street; one reportedly rolled to the railroad tracks next to the Massachusetts Turnpike.
When a Fenway home run clears both the wall and screen in left field, there is a system for estimating how far the ball traveled. First you have to guess the distance at exit point, then the height (remember, wall + screen = 60 ft.), then the arc. A high arc gives a multiplier of, say, 0.6. A flat arc might have a multiplier of 1.2. It's all Euclidian geometry, with some guesswork thrown in. Mark McGwire hit a whole bunch (mathematical term) of home runs that had estimated distances around 480 feet.
Sitting in the centerfield bleachers, we got a different view than you did watching on television at home. We did not get closeups of Mac's beady eyes glaring at the ball he is about to destroy. But we got to see the home runs in their full glory as they left the yard. It was like a fireworks show, with the crowd oooh-ing and aaaah-ing as the slugger's pyrotechnics reach their earthshaking visceral climax. McGwire was Vulcan pounding on his anvil, and we were standing on the heights of the centerfield bleachers, watching him do it.
The boys, sometimes unable to see, were swiveling around to watch the giant scoreboard TV behind us. They saw Pedro Martinez walk over to Mac, take his bat, and walk back over to where the other player-spectators were sitting. The boys got a big kick out of this. "He stealed his bat!" I thought maybe Pedro had broken McGwire's concentration, but no, he retrieved his bat and hit some more home runs. Mac's 13 in one round was a record, surpassing the old 12 set by Cal Ripken. (Cal Ripken?)
Anything afterwards would be an anticlimax. In the second round, McGwire fell out of his groove and failed to advance. Ken Griffey Jr., meanwhile, found his groove and belted 10 home runs. Junior is the acknowledged master of Home Run Derby. As with everything else Griffey does, his power is hidden behind grace. It doesn't look like a home run swing _ it's simply a beautiful, smooth Ted Williams-like swing with a slight uppercut. The ball is hit so nicely that it just sails out of the park in gratitude.
Griffey beat Jeromy Burnitz 3-2 - an unlikely all-southpaw final _ to take the crown, but Junior's shots to the right field bleachers will not be remembered for nearly as long as Mark McGwire's bombs to left. As we exited the ball park out onto Lansdowne Street we ran a gantlet of police horses, police motorcycles, and police men with helmets - a remnant of the evening's home run chasing melee. Local sports anchor Bob Lobel got hold of one of the baseballs that landed in the street, and found it to be smaller and tighter-wound than a regulation ball. Which is as it should be.
Although everyone in eastern New England had been hearing about these All Star events for a year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was somehow left out of the loop. On Sunday, folks attending the Celebrity/Future games inquired about commuter rail service at Yawkey Station. "Oh no," they were told, "there's no game today. The Red Sox are in Atlanta."
After the Home Run Derby we went to Fenway station to catch the Green
Line trolley and were packed in with a loud, surly crowd waiting for trains
that were not arriving. Apparently the MBTA had looked at the Sox schedule,
seen an open date, and hadn't scheduled the extra trolleys they normally
run after a ballgame. The Red Sox are always telling us to take public
transportation, but this time they didn't tell public transportation to
take us. --DN
No, we didn't go. As weekend season ticket holders we were allowed to buy two bleacher seats at $50 each, but to buy additional tickets for the boys would have cost a small fortune (see chart below). No exhibition game is worth that much. It's a sin to throw money around like that, and I still can't understand the psychology of people who were willing to pay scalper prices for this event. If just we two adults had gone, it would have been two grumpy old guys sitting in the bleachers bitching about every little detail. (Like the stuff you are about to read.)
Field Box Seats $2,500 $1,250 $425
Infield Roof Box $2,000 $1,000 $335
Loge Seats $1,750 $875 $295
Right Field Roof Box $1,500 $750 $250
Grandstand $1,250 $625 $200
Right Field Box $1,100 $550 $185
Outfield Grandstand $1,000 $500 $165
Lower Bleacher $950 $475 $150
Upper Bleacher $750 $375 $125
The game itself, as seen on television, was a bore. I stopped watching after Pedro Martinez left; went in the other room and left the TV on. There were no home runs, just a couple of doubles. The National League put together one serious threat, against David Cone early. Other than that the game had no suspense whatsoever. There was one great performance - Pedro's - and he was gone after the second inning. It was the All-Snore Game. Even the TV ratings stunk.
Yet Peter Gammons claims was the greatest All Star Game ever. He calls it Paradise Regained. In Peter's religion, baseball went through the Dark Ages during the strike. The fans stopped caring about the game. Madison Avenue sensed this, and so they stopped putting baseball players on Wheaties boxes and went to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods instead. But then the Truly Good People in baseball, Cal Ripken, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire, brought baseball back into the hearts of America. Now with this All Star Game, the comeback is complete.
John Harrington used more correct language when he said it was a super fabulous spectacular EVENT, not a game.
The 1999 All Star was not hoping for a great baseball game, but a great Event. A Vibe, a Buzz, something that people will talk about the next day around the water cooler. Something that might generate more corporate sponsorships. Those are the criteria by which Peter Gammons and Madison Avenue judge events.
The Buzz is what John Harrington meant when he compared this game to the Superbowl. It's why they kept advertising a game that was already sold out. It's what Arch Ward meant when he called his creation The Game of the Century. As the song says, "All that glitters is gold." At least to a publicist it is.
Just remember that one minute people are talking about the game, the next minute they have moved on to Monica Lewinsky or JFK Jr. It's a fickle world, and the Buzz wears off fast.
The player introductions were interminable, and done in the wrong order - the Mastercard oldtimers were brought out first, so the old guys had to stand around waiting while present day stars were introduced. The one redeeming moment here was the crowd booing Roger Clemens, who was at the game not as an All-Star (that must have burned his butt) but as a Mastercard nominee, in civilian clothes, along with a bunch of 80-year-olds. Peter Gammons said the Boston fans showed no class, but I was surprised that people who have paid $4000 for a pair of tickets can still have the presence of mind to boo a Yankee traitor.
With all the greats, past and present, standing around the diamond, Ted Williams was driven out in a golf cart (by Al Forester) to throw out the first ball. This was indeed a great moment. All the modern stars of baseball gathered around him as if they were children. It was moving to see him talking to Mark McGwire about the wood-burning smell a hard foul tip will sometimes make, and it was moving again to see Ted leaning on Tony Gwynn as he stood up throw his pitch to Carlton Fisk. It was a strike, too. Ted's part went on longer than expected, threw the game off-schedule, to the point where the uptight officials got on the PA system asking Hank Aaron and Bob Feller to please leave the field now. It was like trying to control the crowd at Woodstock. --DN