ALL-AMERICAN!

He is a cop in this city and his regular job is on the streets, chasing robberies or shootings, but now here he was, holding Roger Clemens’ glove. It was cradled in his forearm, safe as a baby. Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers ever, had asked him to hold it as he went to sign autographs. He’d even grinned and said, “Hey, if you want to go out there and catch some balls, go ahead.”

Suddenly, Joe Peck, with a badge on his chest and a gun on his belt, was 8 years old again. The “out there” Clemens referred to was the green grass outfield of Comerica Park, stuffed with warming-up All-Stars such as Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza. Part of Peck wanted to run out and do it, play catch on this warm, humid night with the greatest names in baseball. But he started the day assigned to the entrances, then got moved down to the field to help secure the team photos and next thing he knew Clemens -the Roger Clemens – was handing him his glove and, well, this was good enough, this was his job now. Peck was like a lot of folks Tuesday night, a Detroiter holding up his end.

In his case, it was the black glove of a future Hall of Famer pitcher.

“I never imagined, when this day began, anything like this,” Peck said.

With that sentence, he could have been speaking for all of us.

The All-Star Game, won 7-5 by the American League with Miguel Tejada capturing MVP honors, is an annual pageant, a peacock plume, and as such is predictable in many ways. But what caught Detroit by surprise is how uplifting a few days of fun and sun could be when the whole world was watching.

Next year’s Super Bowl is supposed to be the Red Letter of Opportunity on this city’s calendar, but this 76th All-Star Game, with its countless snapshots of crowded summer streets and open-air tents and rock bands and sleeveless women and men piggybacking their kids may have done more for Detroit’s cloudy image than any snowy week in February will match.

We held our own.

And a few gloves.

It all felt so normal

“I’m really proud and I thank you for the trophy and I thank the fans – we just do this game for you guys,” Tejada told Fox after the game.

And this morning, thanks to Tejada’s timely hitting and that of Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira and the shutout work of its first five pitchers, the American League squad is basking in this victory and, come October, most likely a team from Chicago or Boston or New York will be grateful for the bounty: home-field advantage in the World Series.

But what felt best for the host city wasn’t the victory, nor was it the constant pinching of ourselves during the red-carpet parade, or the introductions of the game’s most stellar players as the summer light disappeared behind the skyline.

No, what felt best was how absolutely normal it seemed to have actor Billy Bob Thornton walking around, talking to anybody and everybody, or Johnny Damon and his Samson-like locks, waving at fans as he came down Woodward in a sports car.

What felt best was how our downtown – which has not seen a national event like this in 25 years, not since the 1980 Republican Convention and NHL All-Star Game – did not look out of place hosting the night. In fact, it looked, breathed, ate, drank, sang, danced and charged prices as if it does this all the time, as if “The NBC Nightly News”always broadcasts from atop a downtown high-rise.

What felt best was that a guy like Peck, who is 31 and who went to Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township and who lives now in St. Clair Shores and who became a Detroit police officer because his buddies coming back from the Marines were joining the force and he felt it was “time to take a different direction with my life,” can go home at the end of the night and tell his family about his conversation with Clemens, and how it felt to hold his glove for a few minutes as if it were his own.

“I grew up playing baseball on the fields around our neighborhood,” Peck said. “It was just when the Tigers were getting really good, the early ’80s. We imagined we were them when we played.”

But this – Clemens over there, Dontrelle Willis over there, Alex Rodriguez, Johan Santana and Tejada over there – this, he never imagined.

Scenes to remember

And that’s what made Tuesday night a sight to see. What didn’t it have? If you were among the 41,617 on hand, you witnessed, at assorted moments: a Japanese reporter bowing to Ichiro in the dugout and Ichiro bowing back; members of the Canadian military holding a giant flag; a brass ensemble playing “God Save the Queen”; Al Kaline and Willie Horton throwing out ceremonial pitches; silver streamers exploding from the upper deck at the final note of the national anthem; Philadelphia’s Bobby Abreu, fresh off his 41dingers in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, leading off the game with a single to left-center; Clemens, the beefy ex-Red Sox, staring down David Ortiz, the even beefier current Red Sox, before getting him to fly out in the fifth; Andruw Jones ruining the AL shutout with a smacked home run in the seventh inning into the leftfield seats.

You saw 22 hits and a few nice defensive plays and the eighth straight victory for the American League (discounting the tie in 2002). The rest of the details, you can find in a box score, which is how baseball records its history.

But remember, history is about time and place, and while a box score freezes time, slicing it into the who, what and when, it does nothing for where.

That story is told in other ways.

In ways like this: As Clemens rejoined his teammates before the game, Peck, the police officer, looked after him with the glazed look of a kid trying to figure out how he got in these grown-up clothes. A few minutes later, watching the delighted crowd of fans, snapping their cameras, Peck was asked to compare this experience with the ugliest thing he had seen as a police officer.

“You know,” he said, stumbling, “I … can’t really remember any of that stuff right now. I’m still trying to take this all in.”

If holding the glove of an All-Star can make you forget, even for a moment, the worst nights of a city’s streets, is there any real measuring how much good we just witnessed?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read recent columns by Albom, go to www.freep.com/index/albom.

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