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Williams highlights historic evening for baseball

BOSTON--The 87-year old park had never seen a night like this.

Since kicking off its reign atop major-league ballparks the week the Titanic sank, Fenway Park has hosted countless legends. This is a place that housed the most mythical player in the history of sport and the man for whom pitching's greatest honor is named.

But the Grand Old Lady saw more than her usual share of talent Tuesday night at the midsummer classic. Oh sure, the 1999 All Stars are a solid bunch. But did you see who else was there? Thirty-two of the 100 greatest players of all time ringed the Fenway infield for a pregame ceremony to kick off voting for the All-Century Team.

Mays, Aaron, Musial, Gibson, Spahn, Banks, Seaver, Kaline, Marichal, Ryan ... this was the greatest collection of baseball talent ever assembled under one proverbial roof.

Factor in the four current All-Stars on the list--McGwire, Ripken, Griffey, Gwynn--and the most beloved figure in Boston sports history, Ted Williams, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and you've got most of the living members.

Each of the 32 received a raucous welcome from the over-capacity crowd, which exploded for Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski and rained boos on Yankee traitor Roger Clemens.

Even the All-Stars, those hardball warriors weathered by careers spent in the spotlight, gushed like little boys around their childhood heroes.

"I was really excited ... just to see so many glories of baseball all together at one time," All-Star MVP Pedro Martinez said. "People that I never really saw playing being out there, so many names that I recognize by just names and numbers that they have out there, people that you dreamed of, people that you just saw on video tapes."

For many, the icing on the All-Star cake was a chance to meet Teddy Ballgame. Williams motored in from centerfield on a golf cart to thunderous applause. He dismounted in the middle of the diamond and was quickly engulfed by the All Stars and his fellow legends in a spontaneous outpouring of respect and admiration for a great man and a fabulous hitter.

"I'm a rather emotional guy," Larry Walker said. "And when I got up there, tears were coming out of Ted's eyes. It almost brought tears to my eyes. The greatest player in the world, surrounded by more great players. It was an honor to stand out there on the field with him and all the greats, standing around him made me nervous."

The Fenway PA announcer attempted to disperse the sudden crowd in the middle of the diamond in an attempt to keep the pregame festivities on schedule, but it took a few minutes for any response.

"It was kind of funny to announce, 'can people please go to their dugouts' and everybody said no," said Nomar Garciaparra, one of Ted's successors to the throne of Red Sox hero. "Nobody wanted to leave."

"That's a chance of a lifetime," Rafael Palmeiro said. "I know that everybody in the world wants to see the game, but to me that was a big moment in a lot of players' careers."

Perhaps Mark McGwire best captured the excitement the world-famous athletes felt upon meeting the Splendid Splinter.

"I'm just happy he knows who I am and he talked to me"