Wednesday, July 11, 2007

San Francisco Was a Major League All-Star Host






San Francisco can be proud of the job it performed as the host of this year’s MLB All-Star Game. I personally got a chance to attend many of the festivities surrounding the event. Wherever I went, I talked to fans that had traveled from long distances (Japan, France, Holland, etc.) to be at the game, and all of them mentioned how much they loved San Francisco. Yes, the City by the Bay really rolled out the red carpet for this one and it showed.
Of course, I did everything I could to participate in All-Star Week, except for the most important thing (at least to me) which was actually being at the game itself. Who could afford it? Tickets were going for between $600 and $5,000 apiece and I’m just a low-paid freelance writer trying to survive in the most expensive city in the world. There are only a couple of events I would pay that kind of money to see. Maybe if Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin came back from the dead to do a concert. Or possibly the second coming of Jesus Christ. I’d pay five grand to see that, no doubt. Especially if the gift bag included a pass to heaven.
I had a great week hanging out with my fellow baseball fans, but the best thing was probably the parade before the game. All of the players drove by and threw stuff to the crowd assembled along the parade route – it was Mardi gras! It was a great opportunity to get very close to the players.
Then, I unexpectedly conned my way into the MLB All-Star Pre-Game Party. What a bash! They had so much amazing food, including sushi bars, oyster bars, chocolate fondue fountains and piles and piles of shrimp. I ate so much I thought I would burst. I also got to meet a lot of MLB officials and members of the media, which was a blast. For a moment I felt like I belonged and was momentarily able to forget that I had crashed the party.
Then, of course, there was the game, which I watched in the comfort of my home.
And what a great game it was! When Ichiro Suzuki (pictured above in a photo I took at the pre-game parade) raced around the bases as the ball bounced away from Ken Griffey Jr. for the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history I was in heaven. It reminded me of a neighborhood softball game. What a wonderful fluke! On a night of confusing hops and some questionable calls, Suzuki and the American League came back to win – again.
Ichiro’s two-run homer in the fifth inning put the AL ahead, then Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez added a couple of over-the-fence shots and the Americans held on for a 5-4 victory over the Nationals. There was only one problem with Crawford’s blast – it wasn’t a home run. A fan caught the ball before it went over the wall. But, what the heck – it’s the All-Star Game. Bending the rules a little is permitted. It’s a friendly contest.
In a decade of absolute dominance, the AL has won 10 consecutive games played to a decision, with the notorious 2002 tie at Milwaukee interrupting the run.
There were other exciting moments as well. Alfonso Soriano hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth that made it 5-4, and the NL loaded the bases on three walks. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez then retired Aaron Rowand on a routine fly to right for a save.
"I didn't enjoy it a bit," said AL manager Jim Leyland, so competitive that he screamed at an umpire in the ninth. The reason Leyland yelled at first-base umpire Charlie Reliford was because Derrek Lee of the Cubs checked his swing at a pitch that would have ended the game. The TV replay clearly showed that Lee swung. It should have been the end of the game. But, once again, MLB has its own interpretation of the rules during the All-Star Game.
Willie Mays, Bonds' godfather, was honored with a touching tribute before the game. In the Say Hey Kid's day, the NL ruled All-Star games but not anymore. The AL closed to 40-36-2 and improved to 5-0 since the All-Star winner received home-field advantage in the World Series.
Soriano, who joined Frank Robinson as the only player to hit All-Star homers with each league, connected off Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who then walked J.J. Hardy. Rodriguez relieved and walked Lee on a full count. A walk to Orlando Hudson loaded the bases before Rowand's fly ended it.
Suzuki, on the verge of a large contract extension from the Mariners, had been 3-for-15 in All-Star play coming in. He recorded three hits, was the game's MVP and will be remembered for his strange shot, unfamiliar even to ballpark regulars such as Bonds.
Fans had waited in kayaks out in McCovey Cove beyond right field in vain for some shots into the water -- no souvenirs found their way into the chilly bay.
Bonds, the center of attention in the days before the game, had a quiet night. He flied to right field in the first, hit an opposite-field shot to the warning track in left in the third, and then left the game at the top of the fourth.
He received a huge ovation after he came out on the red carpet during the pregame introductions and bowed three times to his adoring hometown fans. Hitting in the No. 2 spot -- his last regular-season appearance in that slot was 20 years ago -- he even faked a bunt on the first pitch of his second at-bat.
His chase for Hank Aaron's home run record resumes later this week, and the scrutiny will return. But for a night, the swirl of steroids speculation lifted along with the San Francisco fog.
Griffey drove in two runs for the NL with a first-inning single and a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.
Boston's Josh Beckett picked up the win, and San Diego's Chris Young -- who gave up Suzuki's homer -- was the loser.
Young entered to start the fifth and walked his first batter, Brian Roberts. One out later, Suzuki reached down and golfed a ball to right-center field. It hit off an All-Star ad in an area known as the arcade and instead of bouncing straight back, it kicked toward right field.
Young and the Padres should be embarrassed. The pitcher whined excessively about not being selected to the all-star squad, but was subsequently chosen by fans online. Then, he gives up a walk and a homer and essentially loses the game for the NL. Maybe La Russa knew what he was doing when he left Young off the team.
Before a ballpark record crowd of 43,965 on an overcast evening, Mays was honored for being perhaps the greatest five-tool player in the sport's history. After the All-Stars were introduced, he walked in from center field, flanked by Bonds and Derek Jeter, between two rows of the assembled players. The tribute was similar -- but less emotional -- than 1999's ceremony honoring Ted Williams at Boston's Fenway Park.
Griffey was the early star. He put the NL ahead with an RBI single in the first off Dan Haren, then threw out Alex Rodriguez trying to score from second in the fourth on Ivan Rodriguez's single.
Crawford homered with two outs in the sixth against Francisco Cordero to make it 3-1. The ball went a little to the center-field side of Suzuki's shot, about 20 feet from the sign that totals Bonds' homers, currently 751. A fan appeared to reach over the brick wall, about 19 feet high, and gather up the ball.

1 comment:

babe ruth said...

Nice photos. And the food sounded great. Was there free beer?