Gary Carter

The late, great Gary Carter hit two home runs in the 1981 All-Star Game in Cleveland to be named MVP.

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The Major League Baseball All-Star Game has been a special summer night ever since the 1981 exhibition was a game that never came.

My friend and his dad had a third ticket and invited me to go. I couldn’t wait to get to Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium to see a game with the National League stars. Living in an American League city I had never seen any of the great NL players, other than on TV.

Then the players went on strike July 12, a few days before the Mid-Summer Classic, and we were disappointed.

The stoppage of the season didn’t last long (20 days) before the labor dispute ended. It was decided play would resume on Aug. 9 with the All-Star Game.

All of the stars — the starters were the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela and the Tigers’ Jack Morris — came to Cleveland, but we never made it to the game as my friend’s dad was in a fatal car accident some time between the strike and the resumption of play.

We were age 11 and I remember being devastated at the time, but I hate to admit that it was probably more about not making it to the game. Innocent, but probably true. Years later I remember being in my friend’s bedroom and he showed me the unused game tickets.

It really hit home then and I asked to watch that year’s All-Star Game with him. The Royals’ Bo Jackson took the Giants’ Rick Reuschel deep to lead off the game and President Ronald Reagan announced a half inning.

We made it an annual thing for awhile before we ended up at different colleges, but the 1989 game might be my favorite All-Star Game memory because of the circumstances surrounding it more than anything.

So the All-Star Game, with the 2013 version being on July 16, has always been a special part of my summer as I think about my friend and his dad. We’ve lost touch, but every year around this time I think about them.

The 1981 game led to me adopting the Montreal Expos as my favorite NL team as their catcher Gary Carter was named the MVP of the game in Cleveland after hitting two home runs.

My other favorite all-star moments over the years include the 1997 game at Cleveland (the first one I covered as a professional), the Fred Lynn grand slam in 1983 at old Comiskey, the 2002 game in Milwaukee that ended in a tie when the teams started to run out of pitchers and unfortunately led to the game deciding the home field advantage in the World Series.

But really nothing compares to the 1989 game, and finally spending the All-Star game with my friend.

The 1981 All-Star game wasn’t meant to be for me, but it did give me a better appreciation of how life can change in a second.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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