The All-Star game has always been one of my favorite parts of the season. Actually the pre-game festivities really more than anything else. I never, ever miss the pregame introductions. Seeing all the great players together on one field is really what makes this game matter, not the home-field advantage that is attached to the outcome.
Don’t misunderstand, when the 2002 game was called a tie, I felt robbed. I had invested something like five hours into watching that game, just to have all the drama of an extra-inning affair with no available reserves jerked out from under me. So anything that prevents another travesty like that one from recurring is surely welcomed. That being said, the game itself has always kind of been secondary.
The 1999 game in Boston still holds the highest place in my heart. Several sites since have tried to create the magic that happened before the that game, but have fallen well short. I don’t know the back-story, nor do I need to know it. All I know is that watching all those incredible players huddling around Ted Williams, just trying to get a chance to talk to him or shake his hand was amazing.
That scene allowed us, the fans, to see the other side of our favorite players. It was so cool to see guys like Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Jeff Bagwell showing so much respect and adoration for a player of Williams’ stature.
I have written that the fans should not be allowed to vote, that the players and coaches should be selecting the All-Star teams, perhaps I was wrong. This game is about the fans. It’s about the players past and present being fans themselves. It’s about feel-good stories like Brandon Inge and Josh Hamilton. It’s about recognizing the greatness of Derek Jeter and Roy Halladay. And it’s also about shining a light on unfamiliar names like Nelson Cruz and Aaron Hill.
Watching the interview with Hamilton last night, who had been my poster boy for taking the fan vote away, clued me in maybe more than anything else. Hamilton’s numbers this year certainly don’t make any kind of a case fore his inclusion on this year’s team.
He has missed significant time, and not played all that well when he was on the field, but after listening to Hamilton I realized that I wanted to see him play. I recall his performance last year, I know his story. If this guy isn’t an All-Star, I don’t know who is.
The All-Star game is about seeing all the great players at once, on the same field. Their greatness can be defined in many different ways. You can have players having breakout years whose numbers put them in the game more than their name. You can have players whose name puts them in the game, because even if they are having down years, they are the stars that drive the sport.
You can even have players who are past their prime, who are included simply to recognize the great careers they have amassed. All of that is okay. In fact that is exactly why the game is important, much more so than deciding home-field for the World Series.
For a few nights in the middle of the season, you can put away the standings, you can stop fretting over your under-performing right fielder, you can stop worrying about which name might next be revealed as a steroid user. For a few nights you can enjoy the greatness of the players on those rosters and remember that this is a game, in its purest form, with its greatest players all on one field.