Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How I Know the All Star Game Still Matters....

I love the midsummer classic. I won't come Wednesday, when I feel a little lost without a Giants game to listen to on the radio or a dull SportsCenter report, but every year I make a point of watching a game that many fans think is meaningless. So meaningless that the former commissioner Bud Selig put some stakes into the game: the team that won the game earned home field advantage in that season's World Series (a best of seven game venture). Think of the implications of that measure! It's a collective bargain agreement between the players of the NL and the AL to throw and hit strikes. And so I believe the All Star game adds yet another chapter to the narrative of sport. All Star games matter.Here's some evidence—beyond the cost of the ticket to attend the game!—that it does.
Early Friday morning, as I got in my car, I cursed the city I have lived in for the past 15 years. If you've spent a summer in San Francisco, you probably know what I'm about to say. Mark Twain said it best, so I'll let his words—a down right cliche in this town—do the talking.

There is something wrong with turning on windshield wipers, and wearing a down jacket in the month of July. My head tells me I should know better, but my heart can't accept this cold and wet truth. As I turned on the heat in my car, I fired a text message off to a friend who purchased tickets for that evening's Giants vs Diamondbacks game. I asked where we were sitting. I said that if we were in the upper and outer reserve, I didn't want to spend the time or money going to AT&T Park. 

I felt like a spoiled brat. My brother, in town from Washington DC was so disappointed that he wasn't able to get to a ball game during his five-day visit. Others would love to have a team that has the best record in baseball in their backyard. I just didn't have it in me to sit outside in a cold and windy seat for over three hours.
I put these points into perspective and actually got excited when I realized Jeff Samardzija was the starting pitcher. One beanie, three base layers and blanket later, I found my way to the Yard where I was confronted by another truth: Orange Fridays live up to their name and something else, an electric spirit in the house. I thought about the accolades Giants fans have gotten from objective outsiders for the past 10 years, but this crowd was super amped. I'd felt that energy before, and it wasn't during the NLDS or NLCS. It was in the hallways of school before Christmas break. 

Christmas break signifies the half way point of the school year. Everyone is ready for a little break and for the joy of the holiday. Though not a member of MLB, I wouldn't be surprised if insiders told me that sentiment is one they take into the All Star Break. The baseball season can be a grind. Players, coaches and staff play for six days in a row, sometimes more! They travel far and wide to places they want to be and others they do not. The majority of athletes, won't head to San Diego to participate in the Midsummer Classic, but for those that do, it's an honor: one that I was a witness to in a new way at that Friday game.
This year, the Giants have four players who will take the field tonight at PetCo Park. Buster Posey won the fan balloting to start at catcher for the third time. Both Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto will take the mound and for the first time in his career first baseman Brandon Belt will suit up for the game. He got to San Diego by way of the Final Vote ballot. Belt was in the running among four other players.

When the Giants announced that the Baby Giraffe made the cut, fans went nuts. Their voting via text and Twitter #votebelt paid off. He got a standing ovation when he came to bat. The Giants recorded a personal message from the Texan thanking fans for all of their support. His words sent this raucous crowd to their feet; fans were clapping and cheering. It was as if they said to one another: we did this. They did! We did!  And it wasn't a one time affair. When he returned to the plate, again fans gave it up for this All Star. I turned to my friend and said "this is remarkable. You can't tell me the All Star game doesn't mean anything."

The All Star Game matters to me because it reminds me that every season brings surprises, new gifts and new reasons to celebrate. It gives me pause to think about the narrative of a season that is well underway. It makes me miss baseball! and yet it shifts my eyes to those players we love and those who give more than their all. Every Midsummer Classic includes a lead up to it, something I may never have thought about before....not every visit to AT&T Park that make me say "wow," but this one did. I felt a spirit among both players and fans that made me smile. It got me to drop my blanket for but a few moments, and forget how cold it may or may have been outside. That energy was a warm one. Beanies off to the team that is #1 in the NL West. Thank you San Francisco, thank you summer, thank you MLB. Here's to the All Stars and the fans that confirm them. Play Ball!

Photo Credits
Baby Giraffe


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