Players flock to greet legend Williams before first pitch
Posted: Wednesday July 14, 1999 02:48 AM
BOSTON (AP) -- There was a baseball love-in on the mound, the stars of the night and the stars of the century swamping Ted Williams, gazing at him in awe, reaching over each other to shake his hand.
He rode out in a golf cart from center field at the All-Star game after they'd all been introduced -- Aaron and Mays, Feller and Musial from summers past, McGwire and Sosa, Ripken and Griffey from Tuesday night's lineup.
Players watched as the adoring crowd stood and cheered him, the roar almost as loud as the jets that buzzed Fenway Park after the national anthem. And they watched Williams respond by waving his cap, a gesture he never made as a player, even after he homered in his final game.
"Gods don't answer letters," John Updike wrote of that moment years ago.
This time, a baseball god did.
Williams was often booed by Fenway fans during his playing days, but he's now more popular than ever.
"Hell, I haven't had a base hit in 30 years, and I'm a better hitter now than I've ever been in my life," Williams said.
The 80-year-old Williams waved all the way down the right field line as the golf cart proceeded toward the mound. He rose gingerly from the cart -- two strokes and a broken hip in recent years make it hard for him to walk. And then he took the ball to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Carlton Fisk. "Where is he?" Williams asked. His vision, once the best in the game, has suffered, too, and he can't see well outside a narrow range.
Tony Gwynn pointed him toward Fisk and held him steady.
"I got you," Gwynn said. Williams joked a bit, then tossed a soft pitch to Fisk, inside but all the way to the plate.
Fisk jogged to the mound to hug him.
While Williams was in the cart, young and old surrounded him, reached out to touch him, shake his hand. It was a huge huddle on the mound, no one wanting to leave, no one caring much if the game was delayed.
"Where's Sammy?" Williams bellowed, calling for Sosa, then shaking his hand.
Williams grabbed Mark McGwire's shoulder and spoke with him.
Afterward Williams recounted what he said:
"They wanted me to meet [Don] Mattingly when he was going good, and [Wade] Boggs. And we went to this high-class restaurant and we're talking about hitting, the intimate part of hitting, where you put your foot, everything like that. Finally, I said, 'Did you guys ever smell the wood when you foul one real hard?'
"They looked at one another, like what's this guy smoking now? And I said I could smell it quite a few times, and it smelled like wood burning. I said the next time I see Willie Mays, the next time I see Cepeda, the next time I see Reggie Jackson, I'm going to ask them. They said, 'Oh, sure, we've smelled it, too.' So I asked McGwire the same thing, and he said he could smell it, too."
Williams wanted to keep talking, but time and his own emotions wouldn't allow it.
"He wanted to talk baseball with everybody out there," McGwire said, adding that a lot of players got choked up. Larry Walker of the Rockies was one of them. "Tears were coming out of Ted's eyes. I had to turn away because tears were coming out my eyes, too."
The game was running late, but no one wanted this moment to end.
"It was kind of funny," Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra said. "When the announcer asked everybody to go back to the dugout, everybody said no. It didn't matter. What time was the first pitch? Nobody cared."
Said Rafael Palmeiro: "That's the chance of a lifetime. The game can wait."
McGwire and all the others lingered on the mound with Williams a few more minutes.
Finally, Williams was helped back into the cart, and the crowd roared again until he made his way to his box seat along the first base line with commissioner Bud Selig.
"Wasn't it great!" Williams said. "I can only describe it as great. It didn't surprise me all that much because I know how these fans are here in Boston. They love this game as much as any players and Boston's lucky to have the faithful Red Sox fans. They're the best."
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