When the lineups for the City of Boston All-City Baseball Classic were announced at Fenway Park in 2008, longtime Madison Park baseball coach Michael Viggiano was surprised to see the Cardinals’ star centerfielder, Joel Figueroa, stand up in the grandstand with a confused expression on his face.
“They announce Joel Figueroa and he stands up, he’s two sections over from me, he’s probably in section 16 or 17,” Viggiano recalled recently. “He’s supposed to be in the dugout to play. What a golden opportunity lost.
“So that was a funny story.”
A rainout the following year forced the all-star game to be moved to Harvard’s O’Donnell Field, where it was also played the last two years. Viggiano, who coached the game at Harvard twice, said it was a struggle to get full participation at Harvard due to a lack of interest, a lack of transportation and conflicts with graduations and proms.
Full participation shouldn’t be an issue when the all-star game returns to Fenway Park for the first time in three years at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The game is organized by the Boston Center for Youth & Families and held in partnership with the Boston Scholar Athlete Program and sponsored by the Boston Red Sox.
Latin Academy baseball coach Anthony Bernazzani will coach the North squad while Burke coach Paul Duhaime will lead the South.
Duhaime said he’s coached at Fenway a couple times since the game was first played there in 2002.
“It’s just a great experience,” he said. “Fenway as we know is the cathedral of all the ballparks so it’s going to be a great experience. I enjoy going there as an adult, coaching, being there and going on the same field as all the legends were on.”
Bernazzani said he's never been the head coach of the all-star game, but he's coached as an assistant.
“Most of coaches in the city go and we all kind of coach collectively," he said. "It’s an honor to be elected by my peers to be a head coach of this game, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great game for all the all-stars to get together; the best players in the city to showcase their ability.
"It's great we can do it at Fenway Park. It’s a dream for all of them. It’s great we can make it happen this year at Fenway.”
The game has been rained out on a couple occasions at Fenway. Sunday’s forecast includes a 20 percent chance of rain.
Despite the excitement, Boston schools Athletic Director Ken Still said there is still a faction in the city that lobbies him every year to have the game played at the centrally located Boston English High in Jamaica Plain, where the city championships are held annually.
“They consider it a nice, close, easy to get to venue,” he said. “Some people just don’t venture out of [their neighborhoods] as much as they should, but you gotta give that opportunity to the youngsters. The opportunity to sit in the dugout, to experience a piece of Fenway Park is something you will talk about the rest of your life.”
Boston English senior catcher Jessey Valdez is glad the game isn’t being held at his home field when he plays for the South squad on Sunday.
“Sounds like it will be fun, catching there, throwing people out there, getting a couple hits,” Valdez said after Still announced during the city championships that the game will be played at Fenway. “Last year the game was at Harvard. Fenway is a little different. Not everyone gets to play there.”
Valdez’s coach at English, Modesto “Mo” Gomez also said he’s glad the game is returning to Fenway.
“It’s more about the kids,” he said. “I remember when I was first able to coach a base there I felt like them. I know the emotions that go through it.”
Latin Academy pitcher Sam Steeves said he played an RBI tournament at Yankee Stadium two summers ago, but he’s never played at Fenway Park.
“I’m pumped, I’m excited,” he said.
That is likely to be a shared sentiment among Steeves’ fellow all-stars, who aren’t likely to make the same error as Figueroa.
“I nominated him, I might have phrased it wrong by saying ‘I put you in for the all-stars’ instead of saying ‘You are in the all-star game,’ Viggiano recalled. “I don’t know if it was a miscommunication on that or not.”
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