He was just one in a thousand, a kid on his knees, clutching a baseball, shouting out the names of his heroes on a steamy summer night.
One by one, the best players in the National League walked by, eyes cast downward, ignoring the calls of the fans. And then Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates, an injured All-Star, looked up and saw the kid, the 12-year-old named James Cooper of Kensington, wedged against a railing beside the third-base dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"How long you been here?" Mr. Van Slyke said.
"Two hours," James said.
L "That's all?" Mr. Van Slyke said. "Here, give me that ball."
So the All-Star signed and the kid smiled and the evening suddenly looked a whole lot better.
"I have no idea whether that ball is going in a kid's bedroom or under a glass case," Mr. Van Slyke said. "I hope it's in a bedroom. I know what it's like to be a kid."
This is what it was like last night when the 64th All-Star Game finally was played in Baltimore.
It was a night filled with magic and myth, and just good, old-fashioned baseball. The American League out-pitched, out-slugged and outclassed the National League, 9-3, as the Minnesota Twins' Kirby Puckett hit a homer and a run-scoring double to win the Most Valuable Player award.
Vice President Al Gore was in the park. Al Kaline, a native of South Baltimore who grew up to become a Hall of Famer; Leon Day, a Negro League star for the old Baltimore Elite Giants, and Brooks Robinson, an Orioles icon, helped throw out the first ball.
"Baseball is Americana," Seattle Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson said. "Now, you've got the best players gathering in one spot for a nine-inning game. And that should be exciting."
Americana? It spilled all over the streets of Baltimore.
There was the craziest crush for tickets you've ever seen, supply-and-demand capitalism American-style on display along Eutaw Street.
"Got two?" became a mantra for hundreds who were searching for $40 and $60 seats, only to come up empty when scalpers asked for and received up to $1,000 a ticket.
There was a guy dressed up as Uncle Sam. Another wore a giant, green Gumby costume. No tickets. No luck.
"This kind of reminds me of an East Indies marketplace," said Jan Albright of Towson. "There's music. And food. And tickets."
The night felt different, somehow. The park is now 2 years old and the sellout crowds are routine, but the national spotlight has rarely shone as bright on this city as it did last night.
"Opening Day last year wasn't like this," said Mike Youngworth, selling $8 All-Star Game programs. "I'll tell you, I'll be sorry to see this end. There has been a lot more excitement here. And now, it's getting fun again."
Even an informational picket line set up by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition generally was greeted politely by the fans. Protesters handed out leaflets saying they were marching against the hiring practices of Major League Baseball and not against the Orioles.
You look younger than on television," a woman yelled to Mr. Jackson.
"Thanks," Mr. Jackson said.
"I love baseball," he said. "My father played. I pitched. I loved the game as a child. I'm an adult now. I have a responsibility to fight for justice and fairness."
In the ballpark, the players went about their business. They took batting practice. They shagged fly balls. They posed for pictures.
"I've spent so many years watching this game," said Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, a rookie All-Star. "You really don't know what it's like until you're here. And then, you get even more overwhelmed."
The fans roared during the introductions. They cheered some for Barry Bonds. They cheered louder for Mr. Puckett. They booed every Toronto Blue Jay. And then, all stood as one as Cal Ripken, the Orioles iron-man shortstop, was introduced.
Thousands of cameras flashed as the cheers for Mr. Ripken echoed in the night.
"I've had many great moments in my baseball career, but this one touched me in a place I haven't been touched before," he said.
Finally, all grew calm when Geddy Lee, the lead singer for Rush, turned "O, Canada" into a dirge. Actor James Earl Jones, backed by the Morgan State University choir, then recited "The Star-Spangled Banner."
When he got to "O," the crowd screamed along, and the eloquent actor nearly flubbed the next line.
But he carried on. The night was beautiful. The ballpark was full.
So they played ball.
In truth, it wasn't much of a game as the American League steamrollered the National for its sixth straight All-Star victory. And the ending was sour for Baltimore fans -- Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina warmed up while Blue Jays closer Duane Ward finished the game.
"I know how this town thinks," Mr. Ripken said. "We're a baseball town. And we're an Orioles baseball town."
The All-Star Game was a nice exhibition. Let the pennant race begin.