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All-Star Game festivities bring back old memories

Cecil Fielder got off easy.

The former Tigers slugger was at the MLB Play Ball event in downtown Cleveland this weekend, and was taking pictures with anybody who wanted one.

Suffice to say, I wanted one.

It was always hard for me to have a favorite player who wasn’t a Cleveland Indian or Cincinnati Red (though, Fielder did have a blink-and-you’ll-miss it stint with the Tribe in 1998). But the 12-year-old kid from northeast Ohio was fond of Fielder back in the early 1990s.

His clout, his smile, the way he and his son mashed baseballs during batting practice at Tiger Stadium, it all made me cheer for him, even if I rarely did that for players on teams not located in Ohio.

I wanted to tell him all of this. Also I wanted to tell him how in a September 1992 game at Tiger Stadium, how he hit a home run, a game my Indians won.

I wanted to tell him how I was sure he’d hit it for me, since it was my only visit to that great old ballpark.

But as my hand was engulfed in a gigantic handshake, all I could muster was, “Thank you.”

Probably better that way. At the rate they were bringing people up and down for pictures, I probably would have been escorted by security the moment I said “… And then in 1992 …”

Baseball — and sports in general — are about experiences. And I’ll always have that photograph with a guy I looked up to as a kid.

It was the highlight of an all-star weekend where I learned former Indians pitcher Charles Nagy doesn’t age (he looks the same as he did in 1995), Machine Gun Kelly can hit (the rapper hit an inside-the-park home run in the celebrity softball game at Progressive Field), JR Smith still loves Cleveland (and Cleveland loves him), and MLB can’t seem to get out of its own way, even if it’s just in a Futures Game.

I was in Cleveland Saturday and Sunday. The first day, my best friend had an extra ticket for the Play Ball event. The next day I was the guest of fellow writer Vince Guerrieri, as we watched celebrities hit softballs and future all-stars make outs in the Futures Game.

After two days, I was All-Starred out. I heard from everyone that Monday’s home run derby was exciting –the way this season is going, I’m shocked no one struck out — but I was busy watching the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” instead.

See it, by the way. The music is amazing and the acting is superb.

Yeah, I’m a little cynical about the All-Star thing.

It didn’t used to be that way.

As a kid, I delighted in seeing how Indians players would do in the Mid-Summer Classic. Considering that the Indians All-Stars of the late ’80s and early ’90s included such luminaries as Pat Tabler, Ken Schrom and Brook Jacoby, the answer to that question was usually “not well.”

But it was still exciting to see reliever Doug Jones strike out two batters in the 1988 All-Star Game, and then get the save in the 1989 Game.

That excitement persisted as I got older, and the Indians got better.

The best All-Star moment came in 1997, when Sandy Alomar hit the game-winning home run in the seventh inning. The game was in Cleveland, and Alomar was one of the most popular athletes in the city.

When he hit the home run, and then won the game’s MVP award, it was a moment that seemed too good to be true.

And unlike so many moments involving the Indians, it wasn’t.

But the 1997 game also signaled a change in baseball, one from which the All-Star Game never has recovered.

Interleague play.

Part of the intrigue of the game was seeing players who normally didn’t face each other. Baseball was special back then, because it was the only sport where teams in separate leagues didn’t play a meaningful game against each other unless it was the World Series of the All-Star Game.

And the All-Star Game was meaningful.

Carl Hubbell was a Hall of Fame pitcher. But say his name to fans, and his greatest accomplishment was in the 1934 contest, when he struck out five consecutive future Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.

Pete Rose plowed over Ray Fosse in 1970 to score the game-winning run for the National League in the first game at Riverfront Stadium.

Twenty-four years later, Tony Gwynn excitedly threw his arm in the air after scoring the winning run in extra innings for the National League. The win snapped a five-game winning streak for the AL, and was the season’s last great moment before a strike wiped out that year’s postseason.

It mattered. But now, with interleague play every day of the season and players frequently changing teams — the all-star game is about as meaningful as … well, the other sports all-star games.

Remember that Pro Bowl when … oh, who am I kidding. No one has ever said that.

Not to say I didn’t have fun this weekend. It was great to hear names like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome and Travis Hafner’s names called over the public address system at the Cleveland ballpark, even if it was for a softball game.

And the Futures Game had its moments, with Reds prospect Taylor Trammell attempting to steal home (he was called out, looked safe), and Sam Huff, a catcher in the Rangers’ organization, hit a two-run homer in the seventh to tie the game at 2.

It looked like we were headed for a great finish.

Sadly, there wasn’t one.

The game was scheduled for seven innings. If the game were tied after the seventh, there would be one extra inning. If no one scored, it would be a tie.

But don’t worry, MLB would help ensure scoring in the extra frame by placing a runner — the last hitter from the previous inning — on second.

The rule has been around a while in softball, and was put in place in the minors last season.

Some hope it eventually finds its way to the big leagues.

Let’s all hope it doesn’t.

Because even with a runner in scoring position with no one out without actually having to do anything, the American and National League prospects failed to score in the eighth.

When Jo Adell struck out in a do-or-tie situation, the game ended in a stalemate.

Baseball should never end in a tie.

Still, I did have a good time. The Play Ball event was cool, with a number of activities. (My fastball is 29 miles per hour and my home run bat flip needs serious work.)

But nothing beat meeting Fielder.

For a moment I was a kid again. And baseball and the All-Star Game were just as I wanted them.

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