Memories of the Midsummer Classic

On July 14, 1987, I walked into The Coliseum in Oakland and realized I was living out my dream. I was playing with — and competing against — the best players in the world. Not only was I a starter, but I was batting in the leadoff position. That year was truly my breakout season. By the time the All-Star game rolled around, I had 27 home runs, 68 RBI and was batting .321. My efforts put me on a field with legends of the game, but this was no time to be starstruck.

All-Star veterans like Tim Raines (7x All-Star), Andre Dawson (8x All-Star) and Dale Murphy (7x All-Star) let everyone know: “We don’t lose games. We’re superior so we’re going to dominate!” Even back then — when the game didn’t determine which league would have home-field advantage in the World Series — the players were competitive. Even if it’s an exhibition game, no one goes out there to lose.

Just ask Pete Rose and Ray Fosse.

Two things had me excited for the All-Star game: being the leadoff hitter and getting to play against stars in the American League. This was 10 years before interleague play, so we never really got to see the A.L. guys during the regular season. Not even during spring training.

Once all of the pregame festivities were over and the game got underway, it was a pitchers duel. Sometimes pitching dominates All-Star games because hitters don’t have a chance to get in a rhythm. Most of the time, you’re in there for just for a couple at-bats rather than the four or more that come in a regular-season game. You also rarely see the same pitcher more than once. Thirteen pitchers had a combined 12 shutout innings before Tim Raines — the game’s MVP — hit a game-winning two-run triple in the top of the 13th. Guess he wasn’t joking about that “We don’t lose” mentality, huh?

By the time I was selected for the 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim, I had a bit more experience and confidence. It was my sixth year in the league and I had become known as one of the smaller guys who could hit homers. As a result, I was a participant in the Home Run Derby. Now, here I was, only 175-pounds, going up against 225-pound specimens like Bo Jackson. That being said, I wasn’t worried.

I knew what I could do. I just went in there with a “prove ‘em wrong” attitude. I came to win, and that’s exactly what I did.

The format was completely different back then. There weren’t rounds, you couldn’t select your own pitcher and there wasn’t much joking around in between at-bats. It was simply about getting out there and hitting as many home runs as you could. I ended up being co-champion with Ruben Sierra, but I honestly still feel I would’ve been the sole champion if we had more rounds like they do today.

As much as I enjoyed winning the Home Run Derby, the most memorable homer came the next night when Bo Jackson launched a 450-foot home run over my head. The sound, the trajectory on the ball — it was truly a mammoth shot. Bo went on to be named All-Star MVP and later jokingly asked, “Why didn’t you catch that?!”

I told him, “If I had a ticket for seats out there, I would have caught it.”

A simple moment like that is what players remember decades later. It’s just one of the factors that makes the All-Star game special. It’s about the feeling of being recognized as one of the world’s best players, the mix of camaraderie and competitiveness and playing with heroes you looked up to while growing up.

I can’t really give much advice to this year’s players who will be competing in the All-Star game for the first time. When they walk into the clubhouse, put on their uniform and take the field, then they’ll know. It’s breathtaking. The only thing you can try to do is control your emotions and understand it’s a game.

Actually, forget that. Don’t worry about controlling your emotions. Enjoy the experience. Absorb everything you can during the All-Star festivities. You’ve earned your spot among the league’s best.