Rick Weinberg
Special to ESPN.com

There wasn't a rehearsal. No one was prepped on what to say or what to do or how to act. There was no script, no choreographer.

It was spontaneous, from the heart, from the soul. That's what made it so wonderful.

The timing was so perfect too. Everything was perfect -- the stage, the city, the player.

THE MOMENT
Fenway Park, Boston. The 1999 All-Star Game. The final All-Star Game of the 20th Century, ideally situated in this magical relic.

The introductions to the game in the fabled downtown ballpark built in 1912 are about to begin. The stadium is electric with excitement and pride.

Team introductions begin. First the National League All-Stars, then the American League All-Stars, lining up on the third- and first-base lines, respectively. The public address announcer then introduces nominees for the All-Century team. Dressed in coats and ties and their team caps, they take their assigned spots from first base to second to third -- legends like Harmon Killebrew, Joe Morgan, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller and Warren Spahn.

The PA announcer then introduces two players who authored some of the greatest New England baseball memories -- Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk. The crowd roars as the two Red Sox walk out to the field.

There is a pause. The public address announcer then booms through Fenway's loudspeakers, "Ladies, gentleman and children. It is an honor and a privilege to introduce one of the greatest players to ever grace the field at Fenway Park and any other ballpark. Ladies and gentleman, the great Hall of Famer, Ted Williams."

The stadium roars like an F-15 is flying overhead. A golf cart emerges from beneath the center-field stands. Sitting in one seat is Williams, the Splendid Splinter, No. 9, perhaps the greatest hitter ever, one of the city's most beloved athletes.

He is 80 years old. He is ill. But he is in great spirits as he waves to the crowd and tips his white cap as the cart creeps slowly along the periphery of the stadium. He is considered by many to be the greatest hitter of all time, the last man to hit .400, the man with a .344 lifetime average and two Triple Crowns.

But his career was marred, to a degree, by his sour and antagonistic relationship with the fans and media in Boston, and having led the Red Sox to just one American League pennant in his entire career (and no World Series titles).

But as time passes, wounds heal. As Williams circles Fenway in the cart, the fans are on their feet, roaring and clapping, the loudest applause Williams has ever received in Fenway in a tribute fit for royalty. As the crowd roars, tears well up in Williams' eyes. Tears roll down the faces of thousands of fans.

As the cart pulls up near the pitcher's mound, the AL and NL All-Stars and slew of Hall of Famers all converge on the mound. The players surround Williams and one by one they shake his hand and embrace him. There's Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr. surrounding Williams. Then Tony Gwynn, who had developed a close relationship with Williams, breaks through the crowd.

Williams wipes away tears as he chats with star after star; the fans stand and watch. Ten minutes pass. Then 15. Officials from Major League Baseball move in on the spontaneous scene and attempt to break it up so that the game isn't delayed too much longer.

But the players don't budge. Even the public address announcer asks the players to return to their dugouts. But they ignore the announcement. They just wouldn't let go of the moment.

"They asked everyone to go to the dugout, and we're like, 'No, we're not," Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra said. "It was like, 'Who cares about the game?' It was a special moment that no one expected. We didn't want to it to end."

Williams asks McGwire to lean in so he can ask him a question. "When you foul a ball off, do you smell burnt wood?" Williams asks. "All the time," McGwire responds. "I did too," Williams says, grinning proudly.

Rafael Palmeiro doesn't want the moment to end. "This was the chance of a lifetime," he said after the game. "For some of us who hadn't won championships, this was the biggest moment of our careers. It was like, 'Let's keep this going for as long as we can.'"

Finally, after nearly 25 minutes, the players begin to return to their respective dugouts so Williams can throw out the ceremonial first pitch to -- appropriately -- Fisk. McGwire and Gwynn stay on the field to provide support to the shaky legged Williams.

Williams waves at Fisk, and with Gwynn supporting Williams' left side, he lofts the ball from 40 feet away. It floats through the crisp, black night and lands softly in Fisk's glove, prompting the fans to explode again with another loud, long ovation -- an ovation that grows even louder as Williams climbs back in the golf cart, parades through the ballpark one last time and disappears through the outfield exit.






The ESPN Take: 41-50

The ESPN Take: 51-60

The ESPN Take: 61-70

The ESPN Take: 71-80

The ESPN Take: 81-90

The ESPN Take: 91-100

Best of 1999

47: Titans stun Bills on disputed 'Music City Miracle'

48: 'Tuck' play spurs Patriots to OT playoff win

49: Jordan's shot wins title for Carolina

50: "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."