Summer's All-Star Break

THE Fourth of July started summer with a bang. But for some of us, it's baseball's All-Star game, just eight days later, that marks the season at its height.

Here in New England, only eight hot, sultry, and oh-so-sweet summer weeks remain until Labor Day, school openings, and a cool dose of Canadian air will signal it's time to get back down to business.

A scan of the calendar shows the precious days somehow already overbooked: a couple of weeks of vacation, house guests to entertain, don't forget the company picnic, shuttle the kids to camp and back, and, oh yes, we dare not miss the neighbors' big barbecue. Try to fit in staining the deck, tending the garden, and repairing the fence, and just when can we go to the beach and read that summer bestseller? Suddenly the season is slipping away.

That icon of summer in its glory, tonight's All-Star game in Pittsburgh, has its own wistfulness this year. A strike threatens to end the baseball season prematurely and, with it, a summer preoccupation for millions of fans. At the halfway point, sluggers like Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr., Chicago's Frank Thomas, and San Francisco's Matt Williams are creating excitement as they chase Roger Maris's 33-year-old home-run record.

The Cleveland Indians, perennial doormats, are finally leading their division with the best record in the American League. And Canada's forgotten other team, the Montreal Expos, have made an equally unlikely appearance atop the National League standings. Meanwhile, the world champion Toronto Blue Jays languish in last place. But with baseball's newly expanded playoffs system, nearly every team is still in the hunt, only a masterly trade or two and a couple of hot batters or pitchers away from ... who knows?

For the rest of the world, Bulgaria's World Cup upset over Germany will be the talk of the summer, the soccer equivalent of the Amazin' Mets baseball heroics of 25 years ago, we are told. We try to understand and properly appreciate; but summer's sirens call with so many other distractions.

Dare we note that the solstice has passed, and the days are getting shorter? Or that NFL training camps will open later this week? We'll leave football to the gridiron fanatics for now. Autumn will come soon enough with its own invigorating energy. We can wait; this is the time to savor summer's sultry splendor.

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