They call it “the mid-summer classic, ” and for me it is aptly nicknamed, for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game marks the emotional mid-point of summer. Let me offer my apologies to my several “down-under” readers, for whom both North American summers and the game of baseball are terra incognita
But stay with me because what this post is about is not baseball so much as some of the moments and men in my life that I associate with the All-Star Game. The All-Star Game is played annually in mid-July, and has been a feature in my life for as long as I can remember. I have never been to one, but I have watched most of them on TV throughout my life.
This year my team, the Boston Red Sox, had six players on the American League team (one, last year’s MVP Dustin Pedroia, couldn’t attend because his wife is under medical observation for her pregnancy.) But it was a thrill to see Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis get hits, and closer Jonathan Papelbon get a 1-2-3 out inning and get the win (as it will appear in the record books, but those who watched it felt like he thought he was pitching for Home Run Derby, which was the night before.) One of my favorites, 42 year-old knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, didn’t get to pitch, but he was there for the first time after 17 seasons in the big leagues. Part of the fun is seeing your team’s players showcased to the world in the big game. And as a Red Sox fan, I had plenty to be happy about.
It wasn’t always thus. My Dad, Larry Floyd, was a New York Giant’s fan (our family always hated the Yankees), and had his baseball heart broken when they were moved to San Francisco. I watched a number of All-Star Games with my Dad in my early days, the era of Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Stan Musiel, all National League All-Stars.
Baseball in America is a rite of passage for many fathers and sons, and it was for me and my Dad. Baseball was a bond between us. He taught me to throw and catch and hit. We would play catch for a half-hour when he got home from work in the evening before it got dark. He would loft the ball way over my head to see if I could run it down and catch it. I always liked to show off my speed and ability to my Dad, and these are happy memories. And we watched All-Star games together. He would talk of the greats he had seen play that were recently out of the game like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” as he called him (my Dad was from Boston).
But the first team that I was really emotionally involved with was the New York Mets, an expansion team that came into the National League in 1962 after the Giants (and the Dodgers) left New York in 1957. I was 13 years old in 1962, and that is prime-time for a boy to be a fan. The Mets were an endearing team, but found more ways to lose games than one can imagine. They had been put together from the casts-offs of other teams, and were called the “loveable losers.” The first run scored against them came on a balk when pitcher Roger Craig dropped the ball during his wind-up. They lost their first nine games and finished with a 40-120 record. Not a team to put a lot of guys on the All-Star Team.
So it was a big thrill for me when in 1964 the Mets hosted the All-Star Game at their new stadium (Shea Stadium, just replaced), and their second-baseman Ron Hunt was named to the All-Star Game. In true Met’s style Hunt’s best-known offensive weapon was being able to be hit by a pitch. I watched that All-Star game with my Dad, too.
I headed off to Iowa for college in 1967 and never saw the Met’s get good, which they did, for in 1969 they won the World Series against a strong Baltimore Orioles Team.
I don’t remember many All-Star games from my college years, since I was busy changing the world, stopping the war and bringing in peace, love and understanding. I went to a few Cubs games at Wrigley Field with friends, but they never became my team.
That would happen in my next move, to Boston in 1971 to go to seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. The Red Sox had recently captivated their fans with a trip to the World Series in 1967, and had a bona-fide big star in Carl Yastrzemski , the last man to hit for the Triple Crown (hits, home runs, and RBIs). In the 1970 All-Star game, Yaz got four hits and was named MVP.
I became a big Red Sox fan. I could take the Green Line trolley to Fenway Park and buy a cheap ticket and sit in the bleachers. My college friend Eric Thompson worked for a local TV station where he had contact with the players, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I went to many games during my four years in Boston.
My next All-Star memory involves my younger brother Bill. I graduated from seminary in 1975, and that summer drove all over New England seeking my first ministerial call. My brother moved in with me for the summer at the parsonage of the Smithfield Monthly Meeting of Friends in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where I had been the student pastor for the previous year. I was 26 and trying to be a responsible adult and get my first real job. Bill was 21 and looking for a party.
Some friends of his had invited him (and me) to go camping with them on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. So we drove down to Wood’s Hole to catch the ferry, and that is how I came to be in a bar watching the All-Star game when Yaz came in as a pinch hitter. I remember he was facing Tom Seaver, the dominant Mets’ (remember them) pitcher. Yaz got up without a batting helmet, and took the first pitch out of the yard for a three-run homer. This little packed Massachusetts bar went bananas (although the American League went on to lose, as they usually did in those years.) I also remember that we slept on the beach waiting for the morning ferry and were eaten alive by sand fleas.
My next All-Star game memory is 1983. My Dad had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the surgery had left him without speech and in a wheel chair. My wife, Martha, and I had gone down to the Jersey Shore to be with him on what were to be his last days. He couldn’t speak, but I sat next to him in his wheelchair and watched part of the All-Star Game. I don’t remember anything about it, except the feeling that the big wheel of life had made some more turns, and here I was with this once strong man as his life was leaving him. The father and son baseball bond had never needed words. The next day, July 14, I took a break to go swimming at the beach, and when I came out of the water, Martha was waiting for me, and I knew he was gone.
Since then I have watched many an All-Star game with my son, Andrew, who is now himself a grown up. They mark the mid-point of another summer. I don’t take them for granted.