It took a little over 49 years but the Midsummer Classic, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game has returned to Queens.
Unlike 1964, when Phillies outfielder Johnny Callison hit a dramatic three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning at Shea Stadium to win the game for the National League, the All-Star Game is literally more than just a game.
The All-Star Game has become a five-day celebration of baseball as the host city gets to have a Fan Fest for all the days, while the stadium of the home team is utilized for three days.
On Sunday, there was a doubleheader at Citi Field. Kicking things off was the Futures Game as the best minor leaguers gathered with American players, taking on those who live outside the country. That was followed by the Celebrity Softball Game, comprised of notable former baseball players and current entertainers.
Monday was the Home Run Derby and Tuesday was the actual All-Star Game, which the American League won 3-0. The overall economic effect is quite huge for the host city.
The All-Star Game is also a boon for local communities as Major League Baseball has a proven track record of helping nonprofit organizations. Last Friday, MLB and Mets officials made a visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens in Richmond Hill, where they donated $250,000 to help build a 3,000-square-foot teen center and cafÈ.
Mets CEO Fred Wilpon has been very active in helping military veterans in a multitude of ways, and last Monday he, along with Mayor Bloomberg and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, visited the St. Albans Community Living Center for Veterans to unveil renovations to the facility.
General Motors’ Chevrolet division is the title sponsor of the Home Run Derby and part of its contract with MLB is to award lucrative grants to eight [the number of players competing in the slugfest] local sandlot baseball programs. For some reason, the various Little League programs in Queens were overlooked.
The All-Star Game and its related activities were an opportunity for the Mets, who have not had a lot to cheer about in recent years, to celebrate their past and even a touch of the present.
Ed Charles and Art Shamsky, who were both of the 1969 Miracle Mets, signed autographs for attendees at the All-Star Game Fan Fest held at the Javits Center.
Edgardo Alfonzo, the Mets’ third baseman on their National League pennant-winning team in 2000 that lost to the Yankees in the World Series, as well as being a Bayside resident, was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum & Hall of Fame at a ceremony during the Fan Fest last Saturday.
The Mets, as is their wont, found themselves in a bit of a controversy, the week leading up to the All-Star Game when manager Terry Collins announced that his ace pitcher, Matt Harvey, would skip his scheduled start against the Pittsburgh Pirates because of a nagging blister on his pitching hand.
There was understandable skepticism and debate among both fans and sports pundits about the importance of a regular season game versus a glorified exhibition game, which the All-Star Game is.
National League All-Star manager Bruce Bochy admitted at a press conference on Monday that he consulted with Collins about Harvey’s workload because he wanted him to start the game on his home field. An hour later at a press availability session with players and coaches [Collins was named a coach by Bochy], he basically admitted that he was resting Harvey so that he could have this honor. “This is a huge moment for our organization,” Collins said.
The Mets announced Sunday that Mike Piazza, who was at Citi Field to take part in the celebrity softball game, would be inducted into their Hall of Fame on Sept. 29. The Mets are hoping that the ceremony will serve as an endorsement for his candidacy to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America decide who gets the privilege. Candidates need to be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast.
Dwight “Doc” Gooden was another former Mets star who took part in the softball game. He recently wrote a memoir titled “Doc” that described what the effects of alcohol dependency and drug addiction did to him and those he loved. “I want others to avoid the mistakes that I made,” he said.
Entertainers who took part in the celebrity game were comedy actor Kevin James, Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade, actress and clothing entrepreneur Alyssa Milano and singer Ashanti.
Meanwhile, baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who played in the 1964 All-Star Game, surveyed the chaotic scene in the Citi Field press room. Robinson, renowned for being a no-nonsense type, was asked whether there was this kind of glitz and pageantry when he played in All-Star games. “No, thank goodness,” he said shaking his head.
On Sunday afternoon, while the Mets were in Pittsburgh wrapping up their second straight successful roadtrip, Mets prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero each pitched a scoreless inning as the starters of the Futures Game at Citi Field.
Syndergaard was the starting pitcher for Team U.S.A, managed by Mets legend and All-Star Ambassador Mookie Wilson. Montero started the game for Team World, managed by All-Star Ambassador and one of the Mets’ greatest infielders Edgardo Alfonzo.
After the Futures Game, former players and celebrities took part in the All-Star Legends and Celebrity softball game. Mets fans and comedians Kevin James and Chris Rock participated, along with comedian George Lopez and Mets greats John Franco, Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
Monday was All-Star Workout Day at Citi Field where players took to the field for batting practice and warmed up for that night’s Home Run Derby and the following night’s All-Star Game.