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A Tale Of Two Midsummer Classics

The Midsummer Classic, Major League Baseball’s annual All Star Game, took place on Tuesday night, July 16 at CitiField, giving the New York Metropolitans a second chance at hosting the event watched around the world. The first Classic hosted by the Mets was played in their initial season at Shea Stadium, 1964, the year that also saw the World’s Fair come to Queens, as well as the arrival of the Beatles at Shea Stadium.

That year was also the year that I personally began playing organized baseball for the very first time at the ripe old age of eight.  I know that we now get our children involved in organized sports as soon as they can walk, but back then, (boy I sound like my father), if you were lucky you could find a team to play for at eight or nine. So with baseball as my passion and living in Queens at the time, rooting for the Mets was very natural for me – except that my father was a big time Yankee fan and for some reason my older brother was a Chicago White Sox fan.

But I digress from my story about MLB’s All Star game. The reason I remember that first season at Shea so well is that my brother, his friends and I attended at least 15 to 20 games, thank you Elsie and Borden’s Milk for the free tickets because cashing in nickel deposits for the $1.30 general admission ticket price took some time.

As school let out late in June all we had on our minds was baseball, playing in the park from early morning until dusk emulating the greats of the time – Mays, Mantle, Clemente or Aaron. For me it was a little harder to come up with a favorite Met to compete with those players but I had one and it was Ron Hunt. And that year Hunt went into the All Star break batting over .300 and playing some terrific second base for a terrible team. He was not only named to the team but he was the starting second baseman.

With Hunt as a starter and the draw of all the other big name players my brother and I petitioned our parents to let us go to the game. And 1964 being a much different time we got the green light, as long as my then eleven-year-old brother watched out for me as we took a bus into Main Street, Flushing and then walked across the Roosevelt Avenue bridge to Shea Stadium and its bright blue and orange shingles. I’m not sure many will believe this but we walked up to the gate and bought general admission tickets for $2.10 each and went to the All Star game.

Of course we always wanted to sit behind home plate so we rode the escalator to the top of section 1 and then took the climb up those steep stairs to arrive at what seemed to me to be the top of the world. The only problem was that we didn’t get there fast enough and there weren’t any seats for us to sit in, so we did what any kid would do, we watched the 1964 All Star Game from the steps of Section 1 about as high up as you could get. It didn’t matter to us, I got to root for Ron Hunt, my brother got to cheer for Hall of Fame White Sox shortstop Luis Aparacio. We saw what at the time, was another great baseball game with the NL winning in the bottom of the ninth.

Fast forward 49 years which is hard to admit to, and the NY Mets finally got to host another All Star game. This time the game was played at CitiField with quite a bit more fanfare than the one in 1964. This year’s game, or should I say event, spanned the entire weekend through Tuesday night.

Tuesday was game day, but not before the All Stars were treated to a red carpet event as they travelled from NYC to CitiField in a motorcade as only New Yorkers can be familiar with. It would have been much more appropriate to have them take the 7 train to the game – that would have given the players the true feel for NY – delays, heat, crowds, etc.

For admission to the game, all you had to do was lay out some serious cash starting at a low of about $375 for Standing Room only, which I wound up with since I felt it better to stand than sit on the steps again. There were also much more exorbitant prices for bleacher seats, quite unlike the $2.10 the game cost in 1964.

The game this year featured what appeared to be a changing of the guard as many perennial All Stars were missing from the lineups, some because of injury (Derek Jeter,  Alex Rodriguez), while others have endured significant slumps (Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols).  

Met fans were treated to David Wright and phenom Matt Harvey in the starting lineup. It was the third starting assignment for Wright as he garnered the most fan votes for an NL third baseman, while for Harvey it was a testament to his pitching prowess that manager Bruce Bochy selected him to start the game in front of his home crowd. Some may say he didn’t deserve it because he only has seven wins, but if you take a look a little further into the stats Harvey leads the NL in strikeouts and ERA, has a dominating fastball that can hit 100 mph on the radar gun and a sweeping curve that freezes even the best hitters.

Even for those fans who enjoy pitching duels the game was not one of the most exciting in recent years as the National League could only muster 3 hits all night and didn’t collect their first hit until a fourth inning single by Carlos Beltran; adding a single by David Wright in the seventh and one by Paul Goldschmidt in the ninth. And even though the American League had nine hits they really didn’t crush the ball scoring on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, a fielder’s choice in the fifth and a double in the eighth for the 3-0 score.

But the highlight of the night came in the eighth inning, with ‘Enter Sandman’ blasting over the loudspeakers baseball’s all-time saves leader strolled to the mound to make his last All Star appearance. And sure fire Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera did just what he has done over his 19-year career, throw a perfect inning of relief. It wasn’t a save because it came in the eighth inning but it was enough to earn Rivera the Most Valuable Player award for the game.

All in all a very entertaining five days for baseball fans in New York – hopefully it’s not another 49 years until the next game hosted by the Mets.