07/13/08 6:33 PM ET
It's all fun and games on All-Star Sunday
Future, past stars, celebs and fans soak up Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The All-Star Game festivities opened in full force on Sunday in the Bronx with a sequence of events that will carry baseball's cathedral through the 79th All-Star Game on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, a fitting send-off and tribute to the storied structure.
No wonder that, by the time the afternoon shadows began to run the top of the stadium across the freshly painted All-Star Game logos running down the base lines, Ernie Banks was standing near home plate, urging for -- what else? -- a twin bill in the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity softball game.
"We should play two," Banks said. "It's a beautiful day, and we're looking forward to the Cubs and Yankees playing in the World Series this year."
No one seemed in any particular hurry to turn the clock ahead to October; not with so much to accomplish here in July, with the Midsummer Classic set to create indelible memories over the course of the next few days.
With bunting dangling from each deck and a cool breeze softening the summer day, a steady stream of fans filtered through Monument Park prior to the XM All-Star Futures Game, some embracing their first experience up close with the structures erected to honor the great Yankees of the past.
Monument Park will make the trip across the street to the billion-dollar future home of the decorated franchise next season, but seeing it in its current state seems to be a prerequisite for many serious baseball fans.
After the World Team's 3-0 victory in the Futures Game, Marlins right-hander Jesus Delgado took his time. Holding his baby, the prospect's spikes clicked as he walked the pavement leading to Monument Park, stopping for a photograph in front of Lou Gehrig.
"This whole week will be tremendous, and I know we'll close it out with some ceremonies at the end of our season," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.
"Certainly we're hopeful that we can get our act together on the Major League side and extend it into October, but we're all looking forward to the next generation of Yankees playing in that new ballpark. It's old school, and it's really turning back the clock with all the new amenities."
Yankee Stadium alone would be plenty to draw in the crowds, but some fans have been hooked by the allure of the All-Star Game.
Phillip Erickson, 17, was walking through the concourse behind home plate with his father, Elvin, wearing a souvenir from the '06 Midsummer Classic at Pittsburgh's PNC Park -- a jersey emblazoned with his last name and No. 06.
The Ericksons scored great seats to the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, just five rows from the field, and with the game in New York, their commute from Queens was a lot shorter. It also will allow them to fully embrace the All-Star experience.
"We did FanFest yesterday, the Futures Game today, and we're coming back tomorrow for the Home Run Derby," said Erickson, 47. "We went the year that Ryan Howard hit the Century 21 sign, and he didn't even know it. Everybody was going crazy.
"The ball hit the sign and it was incredible and the place just erupted. I want to share this with my son so he can someday share it with his kids."
The cash registers at the Stadium's souvenir stands and gift shops hummed with brisk business. Some purchased items to commemorate their All-Star experience; some to have a keepsake of Yankee Stadium's final season; and others just to showcase their fandom of the Yankees.
If you were in the market for an All-Star Game polo shirt, keychain or iPod cover, the Yankees team store had it waiting for you. And this was certainly the only time in the Stadium's long history that the jerseys of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera intentionally hung alongside those of Manny Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon.
"It's not a Red Sox day, it's not a Yankees day," said Maggie Ernst, a fan from Springfield, Mass., wearing her '99 All-Star Game cap from Fenway Park. "It's a neutral day. It's a good time to come here for the first time.
"It always looks bigger on TV -- I was a little disappointed at first, to be honest with you. But there's a lot of history here and you can see it."
Not that everyone seemed to take well to the mixing of the Yankees and Red Sox -- even in the All-Star Legends & Celebrity softball game, some of the passions from the baseball's greatest rivalry spilled over, though it was certainly more good-natured than when the real MLB version of the Hatfields and McCoys arrange on the baselines.
"Access Hollywood" correspondent Maria Menounos trotted out to the first-base line wearing the crimson "B" of the Red Sox and was roundly booed. Billy Baldwin drew a big hand of applause by lending his Yankees cap to Menounos, who quickly reacted as if she had been handed a dead fish.
Nobody took the game -- an 8-7 victory for the National League -- all too seriously. Even the plate umpire wore a Taco Bell shell hat for a half inning.
The crowd was blatantly pro-Yankee in honoring its favorites, especially Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill. During the softball game, O'Neill homered to right and was serenaded with chants of his name, just as the fans did in a tearful goodbye at the last home game of the 2001 World Series.
This chant was much the same -- well, the same as it would have been if O'Neill had been wearing short pants and swinging an orange metal bat.
"Every memory I have as a Yankee is right here in Yankee Stadium with these fans," O'Neill said. "It's going to be different. Yankee Stadium is Yankee Stadium, and that's going to have to be Yankee Stadium "B," because Yankee Stadium is right here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.