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Fighting Ambivalence About Baseball’s Mid-Summer Not-So-Classic

July 13, 2011

Major League Baseball held its 82nd Annual All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona last night, and considering that I am a.) an Arizona resident, b.) a regular (if not avid) baseball fan and c.) a loyal Arizona Diamondbacks fan, you’d think I would have made serious efforts to be in attendance, right?  Nope.  Didn’t even inquire into tickets.  Not like I had anything better to do; I was available.  I knew a few people who would be in attendance – didn’t reach out to any of them.  Truth of the matter is, I didn’t care to go.

Never mind the fact that half the guys’ I’d pay to see weren’t going to be there: No ARod (injured), no Ryan Howard (Biggest snub in a looooong time, Philly fans are ridiculous creatures as noted here), no Mariano Rivera (also injured, although it’s minor, he pitched last weekend), no “Mr. November” Derek Jeter coming off his 3,000th hit (a media brouhaha unto itself, Jeter really should have made the trip to take a victory lap in front of an adoring baseball public if you ask me, but no one did, and spending 3 days in Miami with Minka Kelly is hard to refuse), no Albert Pujols (he was available and willing, back from a wrist injury that caused him to be left off both the fans’ ballots and initial coach’s selections, but National League Manager Bruce Bochy decided to go with a 3rd catcher, hometown Diamondback Miguel Montero instead when a late spot opened up, so I guess I understand … sort of …) no Joe Mauer (I would have watched him play either catcher or 1st base), no Justin Morneau (out until August) or Carlos Gonzales (out until next week), and a number of American League pitchers who were selected but due to the two-year-old rule that prevents pitchers who started on Sunday from playing, were unavailable (a fair rule to protect pitchers’ arms, but it’s no coincidence those pitchers were used by their teams on Sunday). Never mind that I still bear a grudge against MLB for cancelling the 1994 season; What can I say, some grudges are let go more easily than others.

My malaise has more to do with my ever growing belief that All-Star games across all the major sports just don’t have the cache they used to, and generally aren’t entertaining. It’s rarely the best versus the best anymore, as I get the distinct sense most of the real stars don’t want to be there (Or, if they don’t want to attend, why should I?), and not only has the MLB game become diluted, so have the NFL and NBA events.  There never seems to an optimal time to hold the All-Star Game either, as holding an all-star game both in the middle of and at the end of a season engenders non-participation by weary, injured and disinterested would be all-stars.  My idea would be to hold them at the beginning of the season as the opening event for each sport, have the fans vote on rosters during the preseason base don the prior season’s exploits, and kick off the regular season in style – but again, no has asked me.

Despite all that, I resolved to watch the game last night, attentively as long as I could.  Who knows when the Mid-Summer not-so-Classic comes to Phoenix again?  I especially paid close attention to the pre-game festivities.  Whenever any sporting event like an All-Star Game (Phoenix has held both the NBA and MLB events), the Super Bowl (two so far in the Valley of the Sun), a “National Championship” College Football Game (the bogus BCS or the older Fiesta Bowl #1 vs. #2 match-ups) or an NCAA Final Four (still waiting) comes to Arizona, I enjoy seeing how each league incorporates local culture and history, as well as how the corresponding host organizers beat the provincial drum.

In that light (and despite the desert heat dictating a closed roof), Phoenix shined. Team introductions seemed to take forever, although when you have 79 players and 6 coaches to introduce it takes on a high-school graduation feel. It was moving to see Josh Hamilton greeted with as loud an ovation as the home team All-Stars Justin Upton and Montero received after the week he had.  I did a quick count as each player was being introduced, and tallied 25 (!) players that I either never heard of (which may say more about me as a baseball fan than anything) or have heard of and NEVER thought of as All-Star quality players (which points back to my issue with all-star games in general – Plácido Polanco? Really?!?). The ginormous flag covering the entire outfield was pretty cool. I was especially touched by the tribute to the victims of the January 8th Tucson shootings and their families, many of whom were in attendance courtesy of MLB, and considering Baseball’s connections to the tragedy as well as the geographic proximity, it was appropriate without being overdone.  Since Fox was broadcasting the game, and since the game was in Arizona, it only made sense that American Idol winner and Phoenix native Jordin Sparks sung the National Anthem, and to her credit she did a fantastic job.  All in all it was a classy affair.

As for the game itself, the first pitch yielded the first out, and the first three innings went by in a flash. Most of the game’s nominal fireworks occurred in the 4th inning, with the National League’s 3-run homer (from eventual MVP Prince “Don’t Call me Cecil” Fielder) putting them ahead of the American League’s 1-run homer (from Adrian Gonzalez), and after which my attention waned. I ate dinner. Took the dogs outside. Threw in a load of laundry and checked my Facebook, pausing these activities long enough to see the National League added what would be insurance runs in the 5th and 7th innings, notice Muhammad Ali was in attendance (always a welcome sight), and see Arizona native Michelle Branch performed a solemn rendition of “God Bless America” during the 7th Inning Stretch.  Interest was briefly rekindled in the Top of the 9th inning, when the American League put two runners in scoring position before Brian Wilson And His Beard (That’s his full name, thank you …) came in to seal the deal.  The postgame highlight also came courtesy of Wilson And His Beard, telling Fox Analyst Eric Karros during a field interview that Karros’ “hair is immaculate.”  As a Diamondbacks fan, I think Wilson And His Beard is a wacko douchebag and wish nothing but ill-will upon his pitching performances.  As a sports fan I think Wilson And His Beard is hilarious, an irreverent yet cognizant persona that not only provides ongoing meta-commentary on sports celebrity but is also particularly suited to the pressures of being a closer.  One can imagine Giants’ supporters regularly saying during private conversations with rival fans, “Yeah, we know he’s a wacko douchebag, but he’s OUR wacko douchebag.”

One final annoyance with the MLB All-Star Game is that usually the day after is widely known as the Deadest Sports Day of the Year, since none of the major American sports are active, but thankfully I had the Tour De France and the USA-France Women’s World Cup Semifinal to wake up to this year, which ultimately were more captivating than last night’s events.

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From → Baseball, Sports

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