The All-Star Game arrives in San Diego next week and it promises to leave behind countless memories.
But before it does, it’s fun to look back on past games and its North County connections.
Trevor Hoffman is always an All-Star, whether he’s in uniform or not.
The retired Padres closer closes his eyes and his favorite All-Star recollection returns faster than one of his signature change ups.
Hoffman, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, was selected to seven All-Star games.
But it was the 1999 game in Boston that stands out, when the All-Century Team was announced. The game’s all-time greats were introduced before the first pitch and San Diego’s finest was brought out last.
Red Sox icon Ted Williams burst through Fenway Park’s center field fence on a cart, tipping his cap to thousands as he was transported to the mound. Once Williams got to the place where people who he despised worked — pitchers — he was immediately surrounded by the awe-struck players.
“So Ted just starts holding court, talking about hitting with a bunch of the guys,’’ Hoffman said. “About how the ball comes off the bat, how you can feel it and the smell of the wood after you make a hit — he was loving it as much as the players.”
But there was little joy in the broadcast truck. Williams was upsetting the timing of the event. But good luck telling the “Splendor Splinter” to pipe down in a raucous Fenway Park.
“I know they had a schedule to keep and things had to keep moving, but he didn’t care,’’ Hoffman said, his smile matching the joy of his personal snapshot. “He was enjoying so much talking with the players and they just loved it.’’
When a frail Williams rose to throw the game’s first pitch, he was steadied by the Padres’ Tony Gwynn. And, while not as close as Hoffman, that moment is richly deposited in my memory bank as well.
From the press box, the sight of the late Gwynn helping his good friend, and sometime mentor, Williams, left an indelible mark.
“With Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn and the San Diego connection, that was special to be part of that,’’ Hoffman said.
Hoffman’s best souvenir of the week came at that moment.
For Tim Flannery, his arrived a day earlier but with the same impact.
Flannery, who lives in Leucadia, was named an All-Star coach by then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy. With the Padres winning the National League title the previous season — ah, the good ol’ days — Bochy was the skipper and he let Flannery, his third-base coach, tag along.
The day before the game and prior to the Home Run Derby, the restless Flannery was here, there and everywhere.
He was hitting grounders, gathering loose balls — whatever. He was so happy and when his work was done, so spent.
Flannery retired to the cramped clubhouse and, frankly, made quick work of a Guinness. That one went down so well he had another and with his duties complete, why not?
“Just then someone comes through the door,’’ said Flannery, a touring musician and an MLB Network analyst. “They said the Home Run Derby pitcher for Mark McGwire was too nervous and wouldn’t be able to throw to him. They asked, ‘Is there any chance your can throw to Mac?’’
Flannery pauses for affect, following with his response, which screamed, “that’s a no-brainer!”
“Here I am, an Irish guy in Boston, who just had had two Guinnesses, and they wanted to know if I would throw to a guy named McGwire,’’ he said. “Hell yeah, I’ll do it.’’
So Flannery took the mound and McGwire got busy with 13 first-round shots. He launched one home run after another into a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on the Green Monster’s opposite side.
With every moon launch leaping from McGwire’s bat, Flannery would turn and watch the disappearing ball get smaller and smaller.
Flannery would also steal a peek at the center fielder, his son, Danny.
“Pitching to McGwire in Boston with Danny shagging balls,’’ Flannery said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.’’
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports