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All-Star Game a midsummer classic for fans, players

L’Observateur / July 13, 1998

The 1998 edition of baseball’s All-Star Game was everything fans expected and more.

In this year of the hitter, the American and National League All-Stars did not disappoint, setting a record for most runs scored in an All-Star Game with 21. There were home runs, of course, with Seattle’s Alex Rodriguezand Baltimore’s Roberto Alomar homering in the American League’s 13-8 victory while San Francisco’s Barry Bonds went deep for the National League.

But many of the 19 hits in the game were broken batted flares as the outfielders were forced to play back in Coors Field, the ballpark that has been the highest-scoring in the majors over the past four years. The ALalso set an All-Star Game record with five stolen bases.

And while runs were very much in supply, Tuesday’s game also featured some outstanding pitching performances and defensive efforts. Bothstarters pitched shutout ball with Atlanta’s Greg Maddux pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and New York’s David Wells holding the NL scoreless in his two innings of work.

Florida’s Edgar Renteria robbed the AL of a hit in the ninth, making a barehanded grab and throwing out the runner at first. But it was NewYork’s Paul O’Neill who came up with the play of the game, fielding Devon White’s single to left and throwing out Milwaukee’s Fernando Vina at the plate with the AL leading 10-8 and the NL threatening in the bottom of the eight. Tom Gordon then got Andres Galaragga to ground into a double playto end the inning.

The All-Star Game was the brainchild of Chicago Tribune Sports Editor Arch Ward in the early 1930s. The owners at the time were actuallylukewarm to the idea but commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the league presidents were for it. Fan support made what was supposed to be aone-time deal an annual event and except for the war year of 1945, the game has been held in midseason ever since.

The game has come under fire in recent years. There was a belief thatinterleague play would take some of the shine off the Midsummer Classic but that has not been the case. The method of selecting the All-Stars hasalso been criticized with complaints that it has become a popularity contest and that some deserving players have been left off the squad.

This year was no different as many feel some of the fan’s choices were not deserving and that players like Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra and St.

Louis’ Brian Jordan, the National League’s leading hitter, should have been selected.

But the game is first and foremost a game for the fans. Ken Griffey Jr.said it best when asked why he decided to participate in the home run derby Monday, replying there were four million reasons why he decided to do so. The All-Star Game is not just a reward for the players but also forthe followers of the sport.

The players probably get a kick out of the game as much as anyone. Evenwhen a player like Sammy Sosa is unable to play in the contest due to an injury, he still makes the trip just to be part of the atmosphere.

The players get a chance to come together and cheer for each other – just look at the home run derby when the players were in awe of sluggers like Mark McGwire and Jim Thome. During the player introductions, there wasChipper Jones of the Braves and Mike Piazza of the Mets, whose teams had just played a tense three-game series, sharing a laugh.

Younger players like Cleveland’s Bartolo Colon and Oakland’s Ben Grieve get to meet players they followed growing up like Cal Ripken Jr. and TonyGwynn while Ripken and Gwynn shared their own All-Star memories when they were the youngsters.

And while the players were there to have fun, if you don’t think winning the game is important to the players, then why was Moises Alou risking injury diving for a foul ball near the fence? Tuesday’s game had its share of highlights on the field. But the momentthat I thought was the most memorable happen before the game during the introduction of the players. The loudest cheers were not reserved for oneof the hometown Rockies or a long-time superstar like Griffey or Maddux but for a first-time All-Star starter, Walt Weiss.

Weiss’ son, Brody, suffered kidney failure after contacting a strain of the E. Coli bacteria at a water park in the Atlanta area a few weeks ago.Making an amazing recovery, there was Brody sitting in the stands Tuesday night, cheering for his dad along with the 50,000-plus other fans.

It is those kinds of moments when the ills of the sport are forgotten and the All-Star Game once more becomes a Midsummer Classic.

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