We discuss spectroscopy and IR photometry for a complete sample of ∼800 galaxies in close pairs objectively selected from the second Center for Astrophysics redshift survey. We use the Two Micron All Sky Survey to compare near-IR color-color diagrams for our sample with the Nearby Field Galaxy Sample and with a set of IRAS flux-limited pairs from Surace and coworkers. We construct a basic statistical model to explore the physical sources of the substantial differences among these samples. The model explains the spread of near-IR colors and is consistent with a picture in which central star formation is triggered by the galaxy-galaxy interaction before a merger occurs. For 160 galaxies we report new, deep JHK photometry within our spectroscopic aperture, and we use the combined spectroscopic and photometric data to explore the physical conditions in the central bursts. We find a set of objects with H-K≥0.45 and with a large FFIR/FH. We interpret the very red H-K colors as evidence for 600-1000 K dust within compact star-forming regions, perhaps similar to super star clusters identified in individual well-studied interacting galaxies. The galaxies in our sample are candidate ``hidden'' bursts or, possibly, ``hidden'' active galactic nuclei. Over the entire pair sample, both spectroscopic and photometric data show that the specific star formation rate decreases with the projected separation of the pair. The data suggest that the near-IR color-color diagram is also a function of the projected separation; all of the objects with central near-IR colors indicative of bursts of star formation lie at small projected separation.