NEW YORK -- Thousands of runners took to the paths throughout Brooklyn's Prospect Park early Saturday morning in an effort to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief via the MLB All-Star 5K & Fun Run presented by Nike.
Though Major League Baseball did not have an exact total immediately following the race, the number of participants is believed to have exceeded 8,000. Prior to the race, the runners were encouraged by a number of New York Mets and Major League Baseball legends, who also congratulated the participants as they crossed the finish line.
Among those in attendance were legendary manager Tony La Russa, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and former Mets John Franco, Dwight Gooden, Ed Charles, Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky and Barry Lyons.
"It's always very exciting to have any type of event in New York," Robinson said. "The fans are just different here. The reaction is different and the enthusiasm is unbelievable. You always look forward to coming to New York for an event like the All-Star Game, and everything leading up to it -- like this race -- because you know it's going to be different than any place else in the world."
For Lyons, who spent five years with the Mets from 1986-90, Saturday's event stirred up additional emotions.
A member of the 1986 World Series championship team, Lyons returned to his hometown of Biloxi, Miss., following his playing career. It was there, in 2005, that Hurricane Katrina ravaged his neighborhood, destroying his house and nearly all of his possessions, including his '86 World Series ring and much of his other memorabilia.
"It's awesome to be here and try to help those that are in need and those that have suffered. As a survivor of Hurricane Katrina eight years ago, Major League Baseball stepped up and helped me at a time when I was really in need," Lyons said. "Not only since then, but my entire life I have enjoyed helping people. So getting the opportunity to be a part of something like this -- something that is so good -- is truly an honor."
While Lyons can certainly relate to the devastation left in Sandy's wake, the former Met encouraged New Yorkers to keep their heads high and keep battling in their recovery efforts. Lyons has spent the better part of the past decade getting his life back in order in Biloxi, yet he also acknowledged that he has much to be thankful for.
"I actually had quite a harrowing experience during Katrina," Lyons said. "Thankfully, the storm came during the daytime hours, otherwise I probably wouldn't be here today. I truly believe that, and it took awhile to come to terms with it. But seeing the devastation and the loss that these people incurred here in New York as a result of Sandy, it really brought back some painful memories for me."
Gooden, a four-time All-Star and Lyons' teammate with the Mets, said it was an encouraging sign to see so many runners coming out to Prospect Park to get behind such a worthy cause.
"We're all in this together," Gooden said. "So Major League Baseball and the New York Mets are doing a great thing by not only recognizing the All-Star Game and the players next week, but taking the time to also recognize and support the ones in this community who went through the tough times with Sandy."
Each runner's registration went directly to Sandy relief, along with a $1 million donation being made by Major League Baseball. All-Star Week relief efforts will continue Saturday night with a concert headlined by Mariah Carey set to take place in Central Park.
"This race and the concert tonight in Central Park are both designed to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief for the folks who were affected and are still in need," said Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of business. "They're also intended to raise awareness around the country and around the world that, even though Sandy happened eight months ago, there are still a lot of folks that need your help."
Nobody understands that better than Lyons, who urged New Yorkers to continue sticking together and try to be patient during the recovery period, however difficult it may seem.
"Causes like this to raise funds for those that are in need will go a long way in helping them, and that's what it's all about," Lyons said. "And if I can do just a little bit and lend my name and voice and experiences, and lend a hand, I'm willing and able and ready at all times. To do this here today, and be a part of this, is very special for me."
Please visit nyrr.org for the All-Star 5K race results.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.