CLEVELAND (AP) — Sandy Alomar looked out the window as snow fell inside Progressive Field and vividly recalled a warm July night 20 years ago.
“The best moment of my life,” he said.
A six-time All-Star catcher, Alomar was feeling nostalgic on Friday as baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the 2019 All-Star Game will be played in Cleveland. The 90th mid-summer classic will be the sixth in Cleveland, the first since 1997.
The last time the event was held in Cleveland, Alomar connected for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning to propel the American League to a 3-1 win.
For Alomar, who was selected MVP, it was the ultimate achievement in a career that included two trips to the World Series as one of the cornerstone players for those powerful Cleveland teams of the 1990s.
Facing San Francisco’s Shawn Estes with a runner on, Alomar fell behind in the count after badly over-swinging on two pitches.
“I was carrying the weight of these fans on my back,” said Alomar, currently Cleveland’s first-base coach. “I wanted to do something there, so I stepped out of the box and reminded myself, ‘This is a baseball game like any other game. Don’t get to big.’ He hung a changeup, and that was it.”
But for Alomar, the homer, which came in a season where he hit safely in 30 consecutive games and helped the Indians make the Series for the second time in three seasons, was dwarfed by what happened afterward.
As he was presented with the MVP trophy and Indians fans roared, Alomar was joined on the field by his young, son, Marcus.
“That was the cherry on top,” he said. “This game is about the kids. And as a player, that was a fantastic event to be a part of — an All-Star Game in your own backyard. “Just being part of the game was good enough, but to have a chance to perform in the game and win the game and win MVP was a surreal moment.”
Manfred was back in Cleveland for the first time since the fall, when the Indians and Chicago Cubs completed a captivating World Series with a dramatic Game 7 that went to extra innings.
Manfred said baseball was impressed with Cleveland’s bid — part of a five-year process — to host the All-Star Game, which continues a great run for the city. In June, the Cleveland celebrated the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship and a month later hosted the Republican National Convention, an event that ran without a hitch despite security concerns.
“I’m vaguely aware that they play other sports here in Cleveland,” Manfred quipped. “But we were here in October for the World Series and I know one thing for sure, Cleveland is a baseball town and it will be a great host.”
The city also hosted the All-Stars in 1935, 1954, 1963 and 1981.
“We see ourselves as the All-Star city,” Indians owner Paul Dolan said.
Manfred said Cleveland’s bid was boosted by recent renovations the Indians have made at Progressive Field, which was called Jacobs Field in ‘97 and will turn 25 in 2019. The club has created open viewing areas, upgraded concessions and improved its entrances.
“It has to be significant in selecting All-Star Games,” Manfred said. “You want a ballpark that showcases the game, and I think that, both when originally constructed and in the way it has been maintained an improved, Progressive Field fills that bill.”
Landing the All-Star Game and its other activities, including the Home Run Derby, continues a baseball renaissance in Cleveland as the Indians are again champions and the club has seen a significant bump in ticket sales since free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion was signed this winter.
Dolan said it was important to seize on the momentum created by the Series appearance and the Indians went out of their financial comfort zone in signing Encarnacion to the most lucrative free agent contract in team history.
That deal came on the heels of the Indians sending top prospects in a July trade to the Yankees for elite reliever Andrew Miller, whose arrival helped put the Indians over the top.
“That’s not in our DNA, to give up that kind of talent for somebody like that,” said Dolan. “But, I suppose contracts like Encarnacion are not in our DNA either. But, it was the right time for us and we felt it was the right time to reach.”