On a balmy night in Central Park, on stage with the New York Philharmonic, Joe Torre gazed out on several thousand people sitting on the lawn and recited, with brio, Casey at the Bat.
“… And Casey stood a-watching it, in haughty grandeur there.”
The violins swirled beneath his voice. Torre performed as if he’d done this before and enjoyed it.
Watch: American League beat the National League 3-0
“‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey,” Torre intoned as the trombones played a purposely sour note. “‘Strike One!’” the umpire said.”
Torre was an appropriate host and personification of New York baseball for the week of all-star festivities that culminated Tuesday night in Citi Field as the American League defeated the National League 3-0.
He is a son of Brooklyn who cheered for the Giants at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, managed the Yankees in the Bronx, and managed the Mets in Queens. Now he works at Major League Baseball headquarters in Manhattan as an executive vice-president.
Who better to communicate baseball’s epic poem of failure and disappointment than this senior figure who played in nine all-star games, helped lead baseball’s union movement as a player and is likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager who won the World Series four times?
“There is no joy in Mudville,” Torre concluded as the orchestra rose to a crescendo. “Mighty Casey has struck out!”
This rousing performance was hardly the only extracurricular event surrounding Tuesday’s game, which included four Toronto Blue Jays representing the American League. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, was introduced on the same stage as Torre.
At the New York Public Library, the public could view one of those rare and precious 1909 Honus Wagner baseball cards. Yet another one was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Tuesday afternoon, in the sweltering summer heat, a red carpet was to be laid on 42nd Street for a Midtown parade with the all-stars in open-topped cars.
The night before, at Citi Field, under a red sunset that seemed to linger for an hour, big hitters pounded long fly balls into the soft sky in the home run derby, a raucous sideshow of hammy sluggers, shouting TV announcers and boisterous fans. East Side, West Side, all around the town, they’re putting on a big show here, and they know how to do it.
After all, Take Me Out To The Ball Game was written for a Broadway musical. Damn Yankees came from the same wellspring. Of course, there’s that old chestnut about how Boston owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance the musical No, No, Nanette. More seriously, Brooklyn was the setting for the movie 42, about Jackie Robinson breaking the race barrier with the 1947 Dodgers.
A rotunda named after Robinson was one of the sets Monday at Citi Field for a mass news conference that illustrated the different vibes that some all-stars emanate amid this ego-boosting extravaganza.
During the American League session, on a raised podium like all players, sat Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, the defending Triple Crown winner and last season’s AL most valuable player. This is his eighth appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
Cabrera, smiling a lot and preening a bit, answered some of the questions with put-on answers. But he seemed eager to leave, standing up from his chair early.
When someone asked whether younger players seek to meet him and get his autograph at this event, Cabrera shook his head “no” and scrunched up his face, pretending to cry. This prompted a big chuckle from about two dozen journalists. It was all a big lark.
On the other side of the room sat Steve Delabar of the Jays, a middle-relief pitcher with a resurrected career. If Cabrera was the most famous AL all-star, Delabar was probably the least famous, the last man added to the roster, by a vote of the fans.
Unlike Cabrera, Delabar’s answers and comments were earnest and expansive. He talked of what it was like to finally meet Mariano Rivera, the Yankees closer who will retire after this, his 19th season.
“It’s an honour to be around these guys, especially Mariano,” Delabar said. “Just to get to meet him. I’ve heard so many great things about him. He’s real laid-back. He’s a great guy.”
Delabar suffered a compound elbow fracture while pitching in the minor leagues in 2009. He retired, taught school in Kentucky, went back to college, played slow-pitch softball and, suddenly, while coaching high-school kids, his fastball returned. His 30th birthday is Wednesday.
This year, he has a 5-1 record, an earned-run average of 1.71 in 38 games and an appreciation of his good fortune. His presence is a tribute to bullpen men who aren’t always noticed. “Sometimes the credit is not completely there,” Delabar said.
From time to time, he glanced about the rotunda at the American League sluggers, like Cabrera, who would be his teammates the next night and enemies the rest of the season.
“You look at scouting reports,” he said. “Every single guy you want to stay away from is on this team”
Other Jays in uniform were Brett Cecil, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. All but Bautista were in their first All-Star Game. For Bautista, a starter, this was his fourth consecutive selection.
Bautista said he gave the first-timers his best advice, drawing on his own mistakes about getting tickets, hotel rooms and rides for family and friends so as not to be distracted.
He spoke pointedly about his talented but last-place team in the American League East.
“We had an 11-game winning streak and we managed to lose that momentum,” Bautista said. “But that doesn’t mean the season is lost.” Of his fellow Toronto all-stars, Bautista said: “It makes me feel very happy.”
Of himself, he said: “I’m excited, happy and proud.”
But when asked his forecast for the rest of the season, Bautista said: “If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be playing in a casino or be one of those fortune tellers on TV.”
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