On July 7, 1964, 23-year old second baseman Ron Hunt entered the Mets clubhouse to find Hank Aaron and Willie Mays suiting up alongside him for the only All-Star game ever to be played at the newly built Shea Stadium.
As privileged as Hunt felt to play among baseball royalty, becoming the first player in Mets history to start a Midsummer Classic had much deeper implications for him than obtaining bragging rights.
“The biggest thrill was [being there with] my grandpa, and getting a chance to pay back some of the fans [who] appreciated me and backed me all those years,” Hunt said.
The evening before, the former Mets second baseman guided his grandfather through the nooks and crannies of Shea, showing him just how far he had come since his days of playing in St. Louis sandlots.
As Hunt led his grandfather, Walter Gronemeyer, to the field, the lights flared on, and Hunt saw the awe-inspired expression in the face of the man who helped him become a dedicated ballplayer.
“My grandpa and grandma basically raised me while mom worked,” Hunt said. “My grandpa taught me how to throw the ball, how to catch the ball, how to hit the ball.”
In the first half of the 1964 season, Hunt’s .311 batting average was the highest of any second baseman in the National League. But the name recognition of the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski made Hunt’s appearance in the Midsummer Classic far from a guarantee.
Hunt’s mentor and manager, Casey Stengel, urged players to vote for Hunt as a starter.
“Casey said [to reporters], ‘If you don’t vote Ron Hunt in over Bill Mazeroski, there’s something wrong, because Ron Hunt is having a hell of a lot better year,’” Hunt said.
Hunt topped Mazeroski 172-52 in the voting.
In the game’s third inning, Hunt hit a leadoff single off eventual Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance. It was Hunt’s only hit of the game, which ended with Phillies outfielder Johnny Callison hitting a walk-off, three-run homer to secure a 7-4 victory for the National League.
Tonight, Hunt will enter Citi Field for the first time to watch the first All-Star Game in Flushing since ’64. Hunt said he hopes Tuesday’s All-Stars realize the significance of being hailed as the top players in baseball.
“We played it for the fans,” Hunt said. “We didn’t play for subsidy in our contract. ... We played it because it was an honor.”
2013 MLB All-Star Game 8:30 p.m. on FOX