It can come in handy to have a relative who has some connections when it comes to Major League Baseball. As a result, my younger brother was able to score a pair of tickets to the 87th All-Star game held at Petco Park last week.
I must confess that I was not only a bit moved but somewhat overwhelmed when sibling Tom reached out to me and asked if I would like to accommodate him to this iconic event. He had plenty of other people he could have invited, so the fact that he offered me first crack at such a prized ducat meant a hell of a lot. Without hesitation, I told him that I was gratefully onboard and thrilled to have such an opportunity.
I’ve attended a Home Run Derby in the past but never have I been fortunate enough to take in the actual game itself. This had the feel of a bucket-list item and there was just no way I was going to pass it up. Truth be told, this was probably the one and only chance I’d ever get at being present for one of baseball’s signature and premier events. This was truly an once-in-a- lifetime chance.
So without further adieu, here is my scorecard for the ASG and the overall experience, complete with observations, notes, opinions, and assorted facts. Hopefully, you’ll find it was worth a read.
To begin with, San Diego continues to prove that when given the chance to put on an extravaganza-like event, it has few rivals. And I don’t give a damn what anyone says, America’s Finest City continues to validate its status as a great sports town. As it has demonstrated with previous Super Bowls and prior All-Star Games, SD knows plenty about getting it right. From all the ancillary events to the actual game itself, baseball heavyweights and countless visitors were wowed by what they saw and experienced. Peopled raved about how smoothly things operated and the professionalism that was exemplified at all the ASG-related venues. Again, as far as putting on a first-rate show, SD went deep and hit it out of the park.
Which got me to thinking that if the city loses the Chargers, it will be criminal that a locale of that size and inhabited by such a dedicated sports fan base, will be reduced to just one solitary major sport. That thought alone is enough to put anyone who cares, and there is a multitude of those who fit into that category, on the verge of retching. Yes, Charger honcho Dean Spanos has, at times, dissed the fans and has proven to be clumsy when it comes to public relations, but the people of SD had best think long and hard about the stadium ballot proposition that will be voted on this coming November. It’s much more than simply being about a new edifice for the Bolts. It’s about a city’s image, perception and yes, status. Should the Chargers leave, the city takes a monumental hit.
Now, after taking that football-related side street, let’s get back to baseball.
Arriving downtown at about 12:45 p.m. and with plenty of time to kill before the first pitch, Tom and I were fortunate to gain access to the All- Star Pre-Game Celebration, held at the Embarcadero Marina Park South. And what a great place to spend a few hours! In addition to receiving a nifty navy ASG ball cap as we entered, there were food stands aplenty and the available choices were all exceedingly tempting. Tom and I settled on some great Mexican fare that included some out-of-this-world carnitas tacos and some of the best guacamole and mixed salad I’ve ever had.
Milling around, we happened to spot a mascot from our favorite team. Being lifelong Cincinnati Reds fans, we couldn’t help but notice the engaging Rosie Red as she was making the rounds. Looking sharp in her pristine white uniform and particularly cute on this festive afternoon, I asked if she might consent to having a picture taken with yours truly. Friendly and accommodating, she said of course and drew me in with a hug as Tom snapped away with his cell phone. The result was a swell shot that will find a place of prominence in my picture portfolio. As she left, she gave me another sweet squeeze. Watching her depart, I thought now there goes the ideal gal for many American guys – adorable, loves baseball and doesn’t talk all that much!
But for me, the most memorable thing I witnessed at the Pre-Game event was the performance of one of the most eclectic and unique musical groups to be found anywhere. Known as Earth Harp Collective, the band members included a knockout blonde that played a wondrous violin, a soulful singer who looked a bit like Bono, one versatile musician who was doing a number on a three-in-one guitar, an acoustic guitarist, and a talented percussionist. But the show-stopper and the main man was William Close, a musical wizard who was producing some incredible sounds on a massive stringed instrument, in essence a giant harp. With strings that stretched from the smaller stage where he was performing to the main stage hundreds of feet away, this visual absolutely blew me away. What looked to be small blocks of wood were strategically placed along the strings to obviously affect the timbre and sound of each strand. With precision, Close would pluck, pull and slide his hands along the strings and in doing so, produced some incredibly haunting, mesmerizing and angelic-like music. In many respects, it was a truly mind-blowing display and something this writer will long remember.
As befitting a town with a grand military history, the services were well represented during the pre-game ceremonies. A long white line of sailors stretched from left field, all the way across the outer rim of the outfield and then down the right field line. Countless Marines helped unfurl a giant American flag and then manipulated it to create a realistic rippling effect. The color guard looked particularly sharp and dignified. A dramatic flyover only added to the inspiring scene. You could sense a genuine surge of patriotic pride swelling up within the crowd.
By my count, the remarkable total of eight All-Stars had some sort of San Diego connection, either having played high school or college ball there or having been affiliated with the Padres at some level.
The MLB Network’s Brian Kenny seemed overly concerned with his appearance as he was constantly wiping or touching up his face. I wondered how often this guy checks himself out in the mirror.
The crowd really got revved up when former Padre standout Randy Jones tossed out the ceremonial pitch to current Pad favorite Will Myers. Then things reached even more of a crescendo when Trevor Hoffman, to the accompaniment of his signature tune “Hells Bells,” took an animated walk from the outfield and delivered the official game ball to the mound.
Because the National League is in the midst of hosting four consecutive All-Star games, a circumstance that is not only absurd but a real embarrassment to the game’s hierarchy that permitted such a sacrilege to happen, the American League batted last and was entitled to wear the home whites. Bizarre to say the least!
The first big blow of the night occurred when Chicago Cub phenom and former USD star Kris Bryant crushed a Chris Sale fastball and sent it careening off the scoreboard in leftfield for a two-out, first-inning homer. Bryant’s blast staked the NL to a 1-0 margin, the only lead the senior circuit would enjoy for the entire night. And it was an advantage that wasn’t maintained for very long.
In the bottom of the second, Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer sent an opposite field shot into the left-centerfield seats. And then, after Boston outfielder Mookie Betts laced a single up the middle, it was time for another Royal flush, this time courtesy of catcher Salvador Perez, who bombed one to straightaway left that suddenly had the AL out in front 3-1.
Hosmer would go onto deliver another clutch hit in the third, an RBI liner between third and short that increased the AL lead to three. For his timely raking, Hosmer was selected as the game’s MVP. But that award should have gone elsewhere. In fact, it should have been won by someone not even on the AL side. Because when it came to contributing to the AL cause, no one was more instrumental than NL starter Johnny Cueto, who coughed up both the Hosmer and Perez round- trippers on a pair of poorly-executed pitches that stayed up. In the game’s aftermath, Cueto stated that he woke up that morning feeling somewhat unwell. Based on his rather dismal performance, maybe there was some truth to his claim. Regardless, Cueto’s ineffectiveness put his team in a serious predicament from which it would never recover.
In all good conscience, I must point out that Bryce Harper, whom I targeted in a recent column as being overrated, smashed a rope into left-center and hustling all the way, reached second for a third-inning double, one of only three extra base hits for the NL.
Speaking of doubles, Padre Myers juiced the crowd and helped make his night a memorable one when he turned a Jose Quintana pitch around and sent a beam into right-center for a notable two-bagger. Give Myers credit for rising to the occasion, dealing with the inherent pressure of hitting cleanup and giving local fans something to cheer about. Interestingly, Myers was one of only four NL hitters accorded the privilege of being given three at- bats.
Pad Drew Pomeranz also delighted the San Diego fandom by pitching an efficient and scoreless fourth inning in which he used just 12 pitches and allowed only a harmless single. Sadly, it was to be Pomeranz’s last hurrah as a Padre. Less than 24 hours later, he had been shipped off to the Red Sox in exchange for what is reputed to be a hot pitching prospect. But the whole thing kind of smelled. Obviously, this trade had been in the works for awhile and it seemed somewhat cynical that the Padres had maxed out on Pomeranz’s value as an All-Star but once the game was in the rearview mirror, it was like they couldn’t wait to unload the guy. Yeah, baseball is a business— but the way this whole thing went down left an unsavory taste in my mouth. In this writer’s opinion, it could have been handled in a manner more respectful to Pomeranz and the contribution he had made to the club.
Washington’s Daniel Murphy had the best all-around night of anyone on the field. After busting tail and beating a throw to first (the play was scored an error), Murphy doubled in his next at- bat and then gave a hitting clinic in the ninth when he fouled off tough pitches before delivering a leadoff single that gave his club, down 4-2, its last best hope. Murphy also sparkled with the glove when he ranged far to his left, made a backhand stab across his body and then threw to first to blunt a potential AL uprising in the seventh inning. Because it came in a losing cause, Murphy’s sterling effort will probably be lost in time but perhaps only Hosmer shined brighter on this night.
Another great at-bat that didn’t produce a hit was turned in by Reds’ outfielder Adam Duvall who battled Yankee Andrew Miller, stayed alive by spoiling some testing offerings and then worked a clutch walk that loaded the bases in the eighth frame.
Despite his admirable base on balls, Duvall and Reds teammate Jay Bruce went a collective 0 for 3 in the contest. As a result, the Reds’ hitless streak in All-Star games has now stretched to an unsightly 25 straight at-bats.
With the loss, the NL continued to be the AL’s whipping boy, losing for the 16th time in the last 20 games and for the 22nd time in the last 29. If that’s not dominance, it’s a damn good imitation of what is meant by the term. But to be up front and candid, right now the AL is composed of better players and possesses greater depth. It may be a few more years before the NL can reverse a losing trend that is growing more exasperating with each passing season.
This wasn’t a game where the NL didn’t have ample opportunity. But that big timely hit was virtually non- existent all evening. Aside from Bryant’s blow and an RBI shot up the gut by Marlin Marcell Ozuna, manager Terry Collins’s squad just didn’t get it done when it mattered most. The NL stranded runners at second and third in two innings and then let a glorious chance go poof when it left the bases full in the defining eighth frame. When the NL needed a hero to step up, it found no one up to the task.
In a moving pre-game ceremony, the late Tony Gwynn’s family was joined on the field by Commissioner Rob Manfred to announce that the National League’s batting title will now carry with it the name of the iconic and superlative Padre batsman. What a fitting tribute to the man who won eight batting titles and helped give the San Diego franchise a lasting legacy.
The crowd was pleased to see former Padre, now Marlin Fernando Rodney back atop the Petco mound and the 39-year-old rewarded his followers by retiring the two hitters he faced, which included a nice punch- out. Much to the delight of the locals, the colorful Rodney employed his signature bow and arrow gesture before leaving the field.
There was a decided groan let out by many in attendance when Rockie Nolan Arenado hit a routine chopper to third that started a game-ending 5-4-3 double play. There was truly a sense of disappointment that the NL had gone down the tubes yet again.
And let’s give some kudos to home plate umpire and crew chief Mike Winters, a San Diego County resident, who did an outstanding job behind the plate. Winters was sharp with his calls all night and no one who was rung up on strikes uttered a challenging word. Winters called about as clean a game as is imaginable. And this reporter loves the way he inches forward and leans in to get an even better look at those close and borderline pitches.
Though the outcome wasn’t what many had wanted, the game was a relatively entertaining one and as far as the entire, overall All-Star experience was concerned, no city could have given a better accounting of itself. Once more, San Diego had proven that when it comes to putting on a great show, it has few equals.
So Tombo, my bro, thanks for thinking of me and taking me along for such an enjoyable ride. The All-Star game of 2016 will forever be seared into my heart and mind. You helped give me baseball memories that will last a lifetime!