If you had to make a list of the best moments of your life, what would be on it?
In 1997, I was ten years old and absolutely obsessed with the Cleveland Indians. I wore t-shirts with Chief Wahoo to school most days, I almost always had an Indians hat of some kind on, and when I wasn’t at school I was at home running around the bases of my very own pretend Jacobs Field in my front yard.
My favorite player? Well, that is easy. My favorite player was the guy on the team who always toughed it out through injuries and gave his all no matter what. The guy who was, in my opinion, the heart of the team during the greatest decade of Indians baseball. It was Sandy Alomar Jr. Sandy was, and still is, my favorite professional athlete of all time.
1997 just so happened to be Sandy Alomar Jr.’s career year. It seemed he could do no wrong that season. He hit .324 and had 21 home runs, both career highs. Even more importantly, he was the backbone of a team in transition, as some of the staples of the 1995 AL Pennant winning lineup—such as Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton—were no longer with the team. Alomar helped guide the Indians to the World Series yet again, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7 (a loss I still haven’t gotten over).
But perhaps the highlight of Alomar’s season, aside from his game tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 against the Yankees (off Mariano Rivera, no less) in the ALDS, occurred on July 8th of that year, when the Indians hosted their first All Star game at their new stadium, Jacobs Field. Cleveland had hosted four previous All-Star games, all of them occurring at the old Municipal Stadium on the lakefront, the first of which was in 1935.
Of course, I was thrilled that the All-Star game was in Cleveland that year. I remember the buzz in the city and going to the Fan Fest that occurred downtown before the game. I remember how difficult it was to get tickets, with fans having to send in postcards to be selected in a lottery for the chance to buy them. I remember my mom and my grandpa both sending in dozens and dozens in an attempt to have the chance to buy tickets. And, most of all, I remember when my mom told me that she had actually gotten tickets, and that we would be going to the game.
I’ve been to lots of events at Jacobs Field, from Opening Days to World Series games, but the atmosphere for the 1997 All Star game was truly special. As a kid, I remember how cool it was to see national media set up everywhere, the Budweiser Clydesdale horses, and just a great atmosphere of celebration. The player introductions and pregame festivities were great, with Larry Doby throwing out the first pitch. But it was the game itself that was really unforgettable.
As of now, there were 14 future hall of famers who played in that game, not counting a few others who may be voted in over the course of the next few years (including Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Jim Thome). Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, and recently voted in Jeff Bagwell were just a few of the best in the sport who were there. Most importantly for me, though, Sandy Alomar Jr. was the reserve catcher for the American League (new Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez was the starter).
My Mom and I had seats way up in the upper deck of right field (what has now been converted to the “Shipping Containers,” as many fans call them). They weren’t close to the action, but we could see absolutely everything. In the bottom of the seventh inning, we had a great view when my favorite player stepped up to the plate. I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday. There were two outs, one on, the was game tied at one a piece and Shawn Estes of the San Francisco Giants was pitching for the NL.
When the ball jumped off of Alomar’s bat on a 2-2 pitch, I remember watching in amazement as it traveled further and further, clearing the 19 foot wall in left center and disappearing into a throng of screaming, jumping fans in the bleachers.
What do I remember most about that moment? Probably how much my mom was screaming next to me. We still talk about how much she was shouting to this day. She couldn’t believe that, on top of the unbelievable odds against getting tickets to the game, we would be in the stands to witness my favorite player hit the go ahead home run. Thankfully, my mom wasn’t alone in yelling at the top of her lungs. The whole stadium was shaking. It was one of those electric moments that only sports can provide. For the rest of my life, I will never ever forget how loud the crowd was when Sandy hit his home run.
For the rest of the game, an energy built in the stadium as the American League came closer and closer to winning. And of course, with the AL victory, the crowd went nuts again. Sandy Alomar Jr. was to be the MVP, marking the first time a player from the host team won the award in an All Star Game. I still remember Sandy in his red, white, and blue catcher’s gear, proudly holding the MVP trophy on the field after the game. I will never forget the thrill of seeing it in person and getting to be there for the All-Star game.
I still have the ticket stubs from the game. I still have my All-Star game t-shirts and AL batting practice jerseys from the game. I still have the photos. I even have an autographed All-Star Game MVP bat, signed by Alomar himself (it remains my most prized possession). But the greatest thing I still have is the memory of being at the game and sharing that experience with my mom.
My mom grew up a Tribe fan, going to games down at the old Municipal Stadium with my grandpa when she would get tickets for receiving good grades in school. After watching decades worth of terrible Indians baseball, it meant the world for her to take her son to a beautiful new stadium in downtown Cleveland to enjoy watching a championship caliber team bring the city to its feet.
I have always felt that Jacobs Field was where I grew up, going to games with my mom to see the great Indians players of the 1990s. The 1997 All-Star game was a major part of that. If you were to ask my mom what she remembers most about the game, she would most likely say it was getting to be there as her son saw something that very few baseball loving kids ever get to see, his favorite player winning the All-Star game in his hometown stadium.
Baseball gives us so many things to remember, and when I think of the 1997 All-Star game most, I remember one of the amazing memories I have of spending time at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario with the biggest Tribe fan I know, my mom.