A record number of 10,000 originally signed up, but attrition whittled the list. In late May, a group of 40 talked to all 5,000 in three two-hour sessions. When those interested got their shot, they had a few precious seconds to explain who they were and why they wanted to be a part.
"I did not participate in that, unfortunately, or fortunately, I don't know, but that was what everybody thought that experience was like," Indians senior vice president of public affairs Bob DiBiasio said of the dating comparison.
On Tuesday, Cleveland will become the first city to host Major League Baseball's All-Star Game six times. But the event has exploded since the Indians served as host in 1997, when Tribe catcher Sandy Alomar was the MVP, or 1981, when the largest crowd in All-Star history (72,086) packed Cleveland Stadium.
It was also held here in 1935, 1954, an 11-9 American League victory that included a Larry Doby home run and was the second-highest scoring game, and 1963, when Willie Mays was MVP.
The Home Run Derby used to be held in the afternoon, and now it's a marquee showcase the night before. The game used to be the thing, and now there are 26 events during what is billed as MLB All-Star Week.
Starting on Friday, the entertainment includes free concerts, a 5K Color Run and the indoor/outdoor Play Ball Park fan experience at the Huntington Convention Center and Mall C. The second annual Commissioner's Cup, a 10-team youth baseball tournament for ages 14-17, will run July 5-8 at League Park and Case Western Reserve University.
The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission puts the estimated economic impact at $68 million.
"It's multiplied by 10 from what the events were in '97," Indians senior director of communications Curtis Danburg said during a phone interview. "It's the ancillary events that have exploded.
"It's gained in popularity from the amount of visitors that come. That's an end result of all the different activities. Play Ball Park is driving in 100,000-plus people. Baseball and softball tournaments are bringing in families. You've got the 5K Color Run that's going to have 4,000 on Sunday leaving Voinovich Park and running around downtown. You've got the red carpet parade down East Ninth Street."
Danburg said about 4,000 credentialed media are expected, more than the 2,500 to 3,000 approved to cover the 2016 World Series between the Indians and Cubs.
The planning was also much more involved than in 1997. Monthly meetings began last August and included officials from Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
Last July, a group of about 40 — 20 from the Indians and the rest city officials — attended the All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. DiBiasio said that in 1980, in preparation for the 1981 game, he was the only Indians representative to go to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
"There are more people on the 2019 All-Star committee than there were in the entire front office in 1981, almost by double," DiBiasio said in a June 7 phone interview. "There's 40-plus and in '81 I believe we had 23 of us in the front office. There were only five on the committee.
"Then in '97 the committee grew to about 26. Now 40-plus. That speaks to the growth of what began as a two-day event. Now it's a weeklong celebration of baseball."
Indians members of the committee are excited about Play Ball Park, an interactive experience. Although it was presented last year, the outdoor portion was held near Nationals Park and the indoor activities at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, too far apart to walk.
"Baseball is so excited to present Play Ball Park in Cleveland because they're going to finally be able to do what they've been dreaming of, and that is to have the outdoor portion adjacent to the indoor portion," DiBiasio said. "It's going to be so much better.
"Every time I walked through those areas last year, all I kept thinking how exciting it would be to be 12 years old again because of all the interactives, the little baseball diamonds, the Wiffle ball stuff. Major League All-Stars will be everywhere holding clinics with the kids. Your head's going to be on a swivel."
Dennis Lehman, Indians executive vice president of business, said contractors would start erecting some of Play Ball Park by June 20. That includes local companies and one MLB uses from Toronto that has also helped the Indians with Tribe Fest.
"The outdoor activities, this is the first time they've done it to this scale," Lehman said in a phone interview. "The sheer manpower ... they've got a huge undertaking they're going to start building out ... a lot of stuff is brand new, being built for Cleveland.
"Other teams who are vying to have the next All-Star Games are coming in to see what we have here. In addition to being a very walkable town, the fact that the convention center is so close to the ballpark and the fact that you can stack these two activities on top of one another is really kind of unparalleled.
"It's going to provide them a real challenge going forward in trying to replicate that. The D.C. convention center and small Play Ball Park doesn't have the cachet this one has."
For Progressive Field events, Danburg said chefs and support staff from other MLB teams will help with food service.
Danburg called the All-Star Game "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us in the office," but it will be his and Lehman's second in Cleveland and DiBiasio's third. With the Indians for 31 seasons, Lehman also worked the 1976 game in Philadelphia.
For DiBiasio's first in 1981, the Indians handled all the media credentials, a responsibility since passed on to MLB. Reporters sent stories via phone lines, not the internet.
"You had to send your request on your letterhead and make sure you requested how many phones you wanted to check out," DiBiasio said. "It was one of the biggest hassles, the phone company putting in all the lines in our antiquated Cleveland Stadium press box and the [auxiliary] box above the press box."
Danburg was an intern in 1997 and his All-Star Game was just as stressful. He barely got to see the American League's 3-1 victory, capped by Alomar's two-run home run with two out in the seventh inning.
"I was in the press box and in charge of the stat computer that churned out the box score. It was a new system and it broke down four times throughout the game," Danburg said. "I rescored that game five times. In an All-Star Game, you have all those changes, so every time it broke down and had a glitch, I had to re-input every single person.
"It was really hard to enjoy the game; I was always trying to catch up. But I'll never forget the moment when [Alomar] hit the home run. I had just caught up and saw Sandy hit that, it was pretty spectacular. That was an incredible moment in our history and our ballpark history. We're hoping a guy like [Francisco] Lindor makes it and has a similar moment."