The Midsummer Classic is upon us. Regular baseball gets a reprieve and all eyes are focused westward to Anaheim and Angel Stadium, host of the All-Star festivities. Over the past weeks there has been an onslaught of news focusing on the rosters and Home Run Derby candidates. With baseball’s scribes, commentators, and armchair experts all salivating over the intricacies of this year’s list of participants, there is no shortage of debate on the worthiness of the players selected or the value of the game itself.
I leave that nit-picking to the professionals and the “expert” baseball fans. From my perspective as a new student of the game, the atmosphere of the All-Star experience is less about honors and statistics and more like a picnic in the park – a relaxing break that celebrates the spirit of baseball with the best of the best coming together for one glorious ballgame in the summer sunshine.
Learning to Appreciate the All-Star Break
Three years ago the All-Star game frustrated me. It interrupted the Cardinals’ baseball season and had rosters full of names I did not recognize from teams I knew little about. The Home Run Derby had confusing rules, and its repetitive pitch and swing, pitch and swing failed to capture my long-term attention. Sure, I enjoyed the actual game, hanging out with family and friends, but was not truly invested in the outcome – other than the somewhat manufactured National League home-team loyalty.
While I do appreciate a great game of baseball, the familiarity with players sweetens the experience for me. So it is only logical that as my baseball experience has deepened, my appreciation for the All-Star drama has grown as well.
I am not yet overly invested or concerned with the makeup of the rosters – as long as my Cardinals are well-represented of course. The American League is still mostly a blank page in my book. And honestly, my kids know a wider variety of MLB players than I do thanks to the time they spend slugging it out on their Bigs 2 video game.
This year, however, I have cleared my calendar for both the Derby and the All-Star game. With the Cardinals’ current team frustrations (key players on the disabled list and recent crushing losses) plus the resulting tensions in Cardinal Nation, I have been looking forward to a holiday from what has been a tense first half of the season. Hopefully this All-Star break renews my spirit – as well as the spirit inside the Cardinal clubhouse- and gives everyone the opportunity to relax and enjoy baseball again for the pure fun of it all.
All-Star Players on my Short List
The cast of All-Star characters is more familiar this year, but injuries have robbed me of some non-Cardinals faces I was looking forward to watching. Biggest disappointment: no Mariano Rivera. His classic grace and measured presence on the mound completes my image of what true baseball royalty should look like. If Mariano were a closer for the Cardinals, my life would be complete. (But he is a Yankee, so I try to keep my longing in check.)
Then there is Jason Heyward. With all the hype and publicity already projecting him the winner of this year’s Rookie of the Year, I expected to see something spectacular. Nobody scoops that award away from my Cardinal rookies David Freese and Jaime Garcia so easily without having the skills to back it up. I had hoped Mr. Heyward would prove himself to me in Anaheim, but due to that pesky disabled list, he is likely to miss the event.
Cardinals Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter will all be at Angel Stadium, making me proud. I have been smiling ever since hearing Holliday joined the pack of Home Run Derby sluggers. The familiar faces are my primary reason for tuning in, bringing excitement and nervous anticipation. Like a proud family member, I will be hoping they play well and are pleased with their performances. After all, there is nothing like a successful All-Star boost to jump start the 2nd half of the season.
Phenomenal defensive players spark my love of baseball, and the All-Star game gives me a place to cheer some non-Cardinal favorites tending third base for the National League. While David Wright (of the New York Mets) manages the hot corner quite admirably, my fingers will be crossed that former Redbird Scott Rolen (now with the Cincinnati Reds and an All-Star reserve) gets the chance to show off his magic glove as well. I am even relishing the idea of having Derek Jeter at shortstop, making it harder for the “good guys.”
With my baseball exposure mostly limited to National League teams and a steadfast loyalty to the Cardinals, I do find it disconcerting to actually be cheering for one of the Phillies or Mets or Dodgers. But I have begun to appreciate the feeling of unity that this All-Star experience brings to the table as baseball will be transcending boundaries on the All-Star field. For one week in the season, we are in the same dugout. Opponents become teammates and good-natured camaraderie replaces the focused battle faces.
All-Star Game Expectations
I am still learning about the history of the All-Star game, how players are selected, changes that have been made in the rules and the logic behind it all. In my opinion all the fuss about fan voting, roster selection, and awarding home field advantage in the World Series may be taking attention from what this game should represent.
While many baseball realists argue that All-Star nominations should reward leaders in key statistical categories, I contend using only that criteria may not reflect the desire of the fans. Do these highly compensated Major League ballplayers really need yet another honor to make them feel appreciated? I think MLB should instead view the All-Star Game as a way to repay the loyal fans that fill the seats.
Give us the marquee players, heroes, and fan favorites – the names we know from the headlines and the players we love. I want to see the beloved (and infamous) stars of the ESPN highlight reels. I want an All-Star game full of flashy plays and superior pitching to famed sluggers lurking at the plate, waiting to launch an errant pitch right out of the park.
Give me a good-natured battle full of heart and enthusiasm, the thrill of a fantasy baseball game come to life. Throw in some great background stories to introduce me to unfamiliar players, and I guarantee that my love of the game will continue to grow. Those are my expectations for this All-Star game. And I cannot wait to see how it measures up!