The past couple of days have definitely been a baseball junkie’s dream and I am just that. So in my typical fashion I thought I would give my random thoughts and quick impressions of an outstanding baseball weekend (Truly a great early birthday present to me!):
The Futures Game –
For those unfamiliar, this is a game where they take highly touted prospects from all levels of the minor leagues and showcase them. Historically this is the least attended event of All-Star week. That is, unless you have a baseball loving city hungry for anything good and you couple that with featuring that city’s most highly prized prospect. Then you end up with by far the best crowd ever for one of these games (40,000+) and the amazement of national media over the love and support of this fan base.
You couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events from a weather perspective for a national showcase. Saturday it was 107 degrees in downtown Kansas City. Sunday? After a few pop up showers, all rain wrapped up by 5:00 and the humidity really started to clear up around 6:00 and we were left with a simply beautiful night at a beautiful ballpark. Oh, and to the cheers and delight of the entire crowd, Kansas City (via Omaha) Wunderkind Wil Myers went 2-4 with 3 RBI and had a solid game defensively. Additionally the game was the highest scoring Futures Game ever. It was pretty much the best outcome that Kansas City could have hoped for. Wil summed it up pretty well with his final tweet of the night: “Incredible experience at @MLBFutures today. I’ll never forget the support #Royals fans gave me!”
The Legends & Celebrities Softball Game –
When you have perfect weather, local icons, Hall of Famers, and celebrities willing to risk looking foolish playing a game that many of us do on a weekly basis, you have a formula for a great time. Here’s the recap from a topical perspective:
Roster Imbalance – I have to defend the A.L.’s loss a little bit. Having 2 girls on 1 team and 1 on the other has the potential to swing the balance of the teams. When the 1 girl happens to have a National Championship, World Championship, and Olympic Gold Medal in softball and the 2 girls on the other team happen to be a singer and a model who clearly have not spent a ton of time on the softball field, it definitely can serve as both a rally killer for the AL and a leg up for the NL.
Bill Self – Quite the subplot… To say that Missouri fans made up the majority of the crowd Sunday night would probably be an understatement. The only person who got booed more loudly was Robinson Cano Monday Night (but we’ll save that for later). Every time Coach Self was announced there were probably 25% cheers and 75% boos. At the high point (after he hit the 2nd of back to back to back home runs) he probably got to 75% cheers and 25% boos, but it returned back to at least 60% boos by his next at-bat. But Coach Self, very well aware of what state he was standing in, handled it all with laughs and smiles and complete understanding. He acquitted himself nicely and handled himself very well. Of course if he had announced that KU was willing to play MU in basketball this year, he probably could have gotten 100% of the cheers, but that’s a topic for another day.
Mike Sweeney – Always a hometown hero, the recently retired Sweeney looked the sharpest of the former players and promptly launched two home runs into the night sky to the delight of the 40,000+ faithful.
Matt Cassel – The Chiefs’ Quarterback definitely showed why the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him back in 2004. He was smooth and fluid in the field and had a very good swing at the plate. Oh, and based on all of the ladies around us in the stands, apparently he looks really good in a baseball uniform. (Let’s just say I didn’t only hear that once…) Of course when Jennie Finch beat out a throw of his for an infield single, it did allow me the chance to make a joke about his arm strength when throwing the deep ball!
Musicians & Actors – For the most part the musicians and non-comedic actors acquitted themselves quite nicely. Country Artist David Nail, Former American Idol winner David Cook, actor James Denton (Desperate Housewives), actor Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and actor Chord Overstreet (Glee) all played very well and you could clearly see that all of them played baseball at least up through high school. As for the comedic actors, native Kansas Citian Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) and SNL alum Horatio Sanz were serviceable, but nothing special. Stonestreet & Cook did feel plenty of love from the hometown crowd however.
Jennie Finch – The Olympic Gold Medalist and ambassador for the restoration of softball in the Olympics was clearly one of the fan and other player favorites. She also is probably had the hardest job of anyone there. I imagine, as a competitive person, it could be a little frustrating knowing that there wasn’t a person on the field that could get a hit (or possibly even touch) any of your pitches that won you that Gold Medal, and having to dial it down to slow pitch speeds and get homered off of by a basketball coach with a bad hamstring. But of course you’d never know if it does bother her because she just rolls with it. (She did uncork one REAL pitch early in the game just to see if she could terrify Eric Stonestreet). Upon her return home after the game she tweeted out that she did catch some grief for her pitching performance: “My son Ace just said, Mom you gave up 3 home runs in a row? How come? My reply, it’s slow pitch baby!”
Bo Jackson – The manager of the AL squad was hands down the most beloved participant there based on the crowd reactions. He received the biggest cheers and chants all night long. His hip is still in bad enough shape that he couldn’t play, but after 3 innings of “We Want Bo” chants and plenty of cheering and prompting, with 2 outs in the bottom of the final inning, he finally agreed to hit after Joe Carter said that he would run for him. Sadly, he was a little impatient at the plate and popped out, but he still received a huge ovation at the end.
Fireworks – The night was capped off with a great fireworks show following the softball game. It was an absolute blast of a night.
All-Star Monday – FanFest, Workout Day, & the Home Run Derby:
Monday rolled around with even more baseball fun on tap. I picked up my favorite shortstop and headed to downtown KC to take in the sights of MLB’s FanFest (if you don’t know what FanFest is, it’s everything from interactive activities to shopping to vendor exhibits to historical exhibits. For more information see: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/all_star/y2012/index.jsp?content=fanfest.) We got there right as it was opening which proved to be quite smart on our part. We were able to buzz through many of the lines for the interactive areas MUCH faster than would have been possible later in the day.
Interactive Events: I did confirm conclusively that I don’t throw as hard as I used to, though I’m pretty sure just hitting 64mph nearly separated my arm from my shoulder. I also apparently was a little antsy on the stolen base drill as I was done sliding before the pitch was thrown… whoops. I also broke out a little showtime in the field with some barehanded, behind the back, and between the legs plays. (Editor’s note: The balls weren’t hard, so there was little risk for injury if you are in your 30’s and fielding like a goober)
Players: I got to briefly meet Tony Gwynn, Rollie Fingers, & Gaylord Perry as well as watch Alex Gordon & Frank Thomas from only a little ways away as they held court in different Q&A and clinic events. Amusing note…I told Rollie Fingers that we had enjoyed watching him at the Softball game the night before. He said he was glad we did but noted that it wasn’t quite as fun from where he was standing. Apparently giving up 3 touchdowns worth of runs in softball is as fun for him as it is for me!
Exhibits & Memorabilia: There were lots of things to see from historical jerseys (Babe Ruth & Ty Cobb) to equipment (the Pine Tar Bat) to awards (all of the Tiffany Trophies as well as MVP, Cy Young, and Gold Glove hardware from various players). Probably my favorite item was an auction item. It was a print of a painting of 11 Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Ernie Banks, Eddie Matthews, & Willie McCovey), all of whom had autographed it.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say it was a blast.
All-Star Workout Day –
Workout Day is essentially batting and fielding practice (and a lot of loitering with all the guys from other teams) times for the two All-Star teams. It’s probably only really exciting for junkies like me, but it was cool. Everywhere you turned you were seeing great players from all over the country on the familiar outfield grass of Kauffman Stadium.
American League – The most memorable parts from the AL’s workout time were simply the home runs. It was during that time that I realized that Mark Trumbo (Angels) is someone special to watch at the plate. I also got to see his 20 year old teammate Mike Trout hit a blast that informed a photographer that you may not want to turn your back on the field when you are just behind the fence. (Trout hit a home run that nailed her right in the back of the arm and she had no idea it was coming). Oh, and I got to see all sorts of pitchers that would look really good in a Royals uniform… if only we could get them to come.
National League – The NL’s workout was a bit more exciting because it was more guys that I haven’t seen in person before as well as a chance for me to watch some of my beloved Braves in person again. It was really cool to see Chipper Jones taking in all of the sights of the only current major league stadium that he hadn’t been in before. Dan Uggla made the Braves faithful proud with a batting practice home run that cleared the fountains in left. (Note to Matt Kemp…guys built like Uggla are probably a better choice for last second fill-ins in the Home Run Derby than all-around athletes like Andrew McCutchen). Also getting to see the young Nationals phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg was a thrill.
The Home Run Derby –
Getting to experience this live has been something I’ve dreamed of since I was a young boy, so it was an absolute thrill. Now, one word of note, it feels just as long in the stadium as it does on TV…but seeing the hits in person are absolutely worth it. I figure I’ll walk through this part player by player, and headlines dictate that I should probably start with the Captains and address the most talked about portion of the Derby first.
Robinson Cano – Some folks haven’t been completely clear on what exactly the background was on the biggest boos ever seen in an All-Star exhibition, so I’ll start with the context. Apparently, within a few days of when the All-Star rosters were announced, AL Captain Robinson Cano had stated something to the effect of ‘if a Royals hitter makes the team I will probably put him in the Derby’. Well, Billy Butler made the team, and he was not put into the Derby. That took on a life of its own in local sports radio (adding to the reasons why I stopped listening to local sports talk a few years back) and there was a big movement to boo Cano vociferously at the Derby.
[ex post facto Editor’s Note: Here is the quote that started the scrum: In early June ESPN asked Cano, the AL captain for the Derby, whether he’d make a point of picking a Royal, and he replied, “That’s got to be the right thing. You’ve got to pick one of the Royals players. Because I mean that’s their hometown and that’s where the All-Star Game is going to be so the fans want to see their players there.”]
I will be honest, at the beginning when they introduced the lineups, I booed him briefly as well and did not see any issue with it. The same took place in Arizona last year when Prince Fielder selected teammate Rickie Weeks over Arizona slugger Justin Upton. (Which, by the way, was a more egregious choice than Cano’s this year in my opinion). However, it changed over from comical to uncomfortable as it continued on through his entire at bat. The unbiased reality (not a phrase used much in Fandom) is that I would not have wanted Butler in the Derby over anyone on the AL roster other than Cano, and you can’t exclude the defending champ so there really was no place for him. (Too bad they couldn’t trade him to the NL for one night, where they definitely had a spot for him). I do believe that ultimately the crowd probably went a bit too far and did smudge what has been an otherwise pristine showing by the people of Kansas City as the host city. Of course Cano probably could have turned the crowd some if he had pulled Billy over and either done a faux begging for forgiveness or a hug or something to work him into the scene, but I think you have to have guys who naturally think like that to come up with that on the spot. (Torii Hunter definitely would have intervened…). All that being said, the crowd definitely emphasized that it’s better to say ‘No’ immediately than to imply a ‘Yes’ and then say ‘No’. (And before anyone gets too pious on this, please do remember the sights and sounds that opponents are treated to in Boston, New York, and Philly on a regular basis…) Oh, by the way, Billy Butler has never felt more love from the KC faithful than he did last night. And here’s hoping that folks are a bit kinder to Robbie tonight.
Note: I would expect that next year David Wright will be the first call made for the Derby at Citi Field, either from prompting of Major League Baseball to the Captain, or from MLB removing the captain and going back to having the league select the rosters.
Matt Kemp – Poor Kemp. Whether his timing was off from his injury or he just had a bad night, he was staring down the barrel of a goose-egg until he put a golden ball over the wall with only 1 out to go. I will say his performance in batting practice when I saw the Dodgers play the Diamondbacks in Arizona a few years back was very impressive, so I know he has it in him.
Andrew McCutchen – I am a fan of McCutchen with his rare combination of power, speed, and hair, so I wasn’t sad to see him in the Derby, but I really wish that Giancarlo Stanton hadn’t gotten hurt. Stanton would have likely put on quite a show and been the stalwart for the NL. McCutchen did a nice job, but didn’t have any truly eye-popping moments.
Carlos Gonzalez – CarGo has prolific power and was the NL player I thought had the best chance once Stanton was out, but he simply never seemed to get into a rhythm. Too bad…this kid is special. And I could see him come back for another Derby and perform much better.
Carlos Beltran – I was initially worried about Beltran’s inclusion because I didn’t think he would thrive in this type of competition, but I was very pleasantly surprised with his 7 HR performance in the first round. The crowd was behind him and he definitely delivered some memorable moments. The only thing I wish for him is that he had seized the opportunity to own the crowd and come up to the plate in the second round wearing a Billy Butler jersey or, even better, had Billy step up to the plate in a Beltran jersey. I’m pretty sure it would have blown what little roof there is off of The K. (Yes, I for some reason always think about potential comedy moments)
Mark Trumbo – The single most impressive player I saw last night. I tweeted the following (and it actually got shown on the stadium Twitter feed on the Royals Hall of Fame) that I feel sums it up best “The ball comes off Trumbo’s bat differently than everyone else’s #FunToWatch #ASG #HRDerby”. The ball simply explodes off Trumbo’s bat. Others hit these majestic looping Home Runs while Trumbo’s all look like they are bullets fired from a high powered rifle. The only person I’ve ever seen in person whose hits look similar is Josh Hamilton. I would definitely pay to see Trumbo hit again. The guys around me in the crowd joined me in cheering against Jose Bautista (just for 2 outs) in the second round, simply so we’d get to see Trumbo hit again in the swing-off.
Jose Bautista – JoeyBats was a bit of a disappointment last year hitting only 3 home runs in the Derby, despite having hit the most HR in baseball the year before. This year he seemed more ready and had a great first round. And he ended up making the finals, but the finals were close to over before he ever got to step up to the plate. But kudos to Bautista for learning from last year and having a very impressive showing this year.
Prince Fielder – After looking a little sluggish in batting practice Prince’s first round had the most splashes, but just wasn’t that impressive I thought he looked done. I was wrong. Clearly after he shook off the rust, Prince was ready to put on a show. He was the only player to spray HR’s to all fields and he sent a ridiculous number into parts of the fountains that have never seen a home run ball. He is from the high-arching, majestic home run side of things and he hit some beauties. It was fun to get to witness that kind of a display in person. The only downside is editors around the country all wanting to use a headline like ‘The Prince is King!’ for their sports section. Congrats to Prince Fielder on an amazing display.
Ok, well those 3,100 words should probably be enough for you to determine, “yeah…he had a good couple of days”. Now for any of you who have a chance to go to an All-Star week in the future, all I can say is “Do it!”