My All-Star Weekend, Part II

Prince Fielder is the Home Run Derby Champion again … I had predicted Prince and Jose Bautista in the final round with Bautista winning it all, but I’ll take it.

And the National League slaughtered the American League in the Legends & Celebrity Softball game, but I’ll get to that later.

The All-Star Week in Kansas City is in full swing, and I’m having the time of my life.

* * *

Sunday, I was in Kansas City again to work my third and final shift as a volunteer at FanFest.

The morning was like déjà vu all over again. I was awake at 5 a.m. On the road at 5:30. I arrived in downtown Kansas City around 7 and spent some time walking the neighborhood once more, checking out the sites and soaking up the scenes before checking into work.

By 8, our army of blue-shirted volunteers was many the FanFest stations. It was Day 3 of the five-day FanFest, and the majority of us were working our second or third days. We had the system down pat, and the MLB staffers were raving about how committed, hard-working and positive Kansas City volunteers were. Apparently, volunteer teams in previous All-Star cities had underachieved.

As we waited for the gates to open, my eyes wandered around the floor and all of the attractions. It was the quiet calm before the storm of fans.

I also logged a few more mascot sightings. There was Dingo and Raymond. I also saw Bernie Brewer again. I only managed to get a photo with one on Sunday – but it was with one of my favorites -- Wally the Green Monster.

My responsibility during my Sunday morning shift was to man one of the most popular attractions at FanFest, “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco.”

It worked like this: The fan stepped up to a base at one end of a carpeted base path; at the other end of the base path is a base, a mat and a large video screen projecting highlights of major leaguers stealing bases. When the fan steps up to the base, he or she gets to select a Major League player to race. The options were Matt Kemp, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Gordon and Jose Reyes.

I won’t soon forget the names after rattling them off repeatedly from 8 to 1 Sunday. Between all of the Yankees fans and Royals fans, the attraction manager was right when he told us beforehand that we would probably see Alex Gordon steal a base 10,000 times before our shift was over. Derek Jeter got equal play.

So after the fan selects his or her player, a video clip begins that shows the player taking his leadoff while the pitcher checks the runner and readies to throw home. Once the pitcher made his move, the Major Leaguer and the fan take off for second base. The object for the fan was to beat the Major Leaguer to the base. The fans who succeeded were awarded a foam taco hat.

My job was to encourage the fans and operate the remote control that selected the players and video clips.

I loved welcoming kids to my station and helping them select their player. Then, I’d give them some instructions and encourage them to take a big leadoff. …With the kids, I’d kneel down to their level and talk them through the steps as the video played. After watching the videos for awhile, I knew exactly when the pitcher was going to make his move and was shouting, Go! Go! Go! a split-second or two before the pitcher lifted his leg. The adults who stepped up to my station usually arrived making comments about their age and fear of embarrassing themselves, to which I usually laughed with them and encouraged them to take a huge leadoff.

Meanwhile, spectators lined the sideline wall behind me, taking it all in and watching the games play out. They applauded the kids who ran fast, showed good form and slid into the base ahead of the tag. And they laughed at the ones who stumbled and landed on the base with thuds.

Clearly, I was having fun, the smile on my face was prevalent again and there was nowhere else I wanted to be Sunday morning. At one point, after leaning into a kid and setting up for another run, I overheard a nearby spectator say to another, “This guy right here, he’s loving his job.” That – aside from the experience of just being present at the All-Star festivities – made it all worth it.

* * *

Around 12:30, the next shift of volunteers arrived. I stayed a few extra minutes to train my successor on running the attraction. And then I was off for some more FanFest playtime of my own.

I had accomplished most everything I wanted to do Friday, taking in most of the attractions and exhibits, and I would have been satisfied if I couldn’t come back. So everything on Sunday was a bonus. I walked the floor on the lookout for more mascots and autograph opportunities. And I tried a couple things that I didn’t get to earlier. It would have been nice to get my caricature drawn, too, but every time I passed that station the line was too long.

I found Gaylord Perry answering fans’ questions in the All-Star Clubhouse and successfully added his autograph to my All-Star baseball. Later, I caught Lou Brock at the MLB.com set and was within arm’s length of him, but a couple of security men blocked me and the other autograph seekers, saying he couldn’t sign because of some agreement with MLB.

Eventually, I did one of the things I said I wasn’t going to do during the weekend by stepping into one of the autograph lines – for Bret Saberhagen. The line seemed to be moving fast, and there was less than an hour left in his time slot, so I figured it was worth a try and I had nothing to lose. As my bad luck had it, however, the pace of the line slowed over the last 15 minutes or so and I was among the final dozen people in the line when Saberhagen stepped away from the stage. … From there, he headed to the MLB.com set to talk baseball there, and I thought I might have a better shot. But when Saberhagen stepped off the stage, he blew off those of us waiting for autographs, reminding us he’d just finished signing two hours’ worth of autographs. Understood.

Before I left, I briefly watched Andre Dawson sign autographs as part of a State Farm promotion. By the time I got there the line had been cut off. … I would have liked to see Joe Carter, who had been at FanFest that morning, too, but my volunteer responsibilities kept me from catching any glimpse of him. Nonetheless, like so much of the weekend, I relished the experience and just knowing that those guys were in the same building.

* * *

By 3 Sunday afternoon, I was making my way down I-70 to Kauffman Stadium for the Futures Game and the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, otherwise known as All-Star Sunday.

With all of the TV trailers and special event tents set up in the parking areas closest to the stadium, it was more difficult than usual to settle into a parking spot. Usually parking at Kauffman is a fairly easy thing, but on Sunday I might as well have parked in Overland Park.

I had quite a hike from my car to the stadium. But I made it. Managed to snap some photos of the festivities and fan interactions in the concourse. Bought a souvenir cup filled with Mountain Dew and a personal pizza from a concession stand. And I arrived at my seat as they were beginning to introduce the lineups for the Futures Game.

Going in, the Futures Game was of little interest to me because I knew virtually nothing about the guys playing in the game. The rosters for the game are comprised of baseball’s hottest prospects and minor league all-stars. I hadn’t heard of a Wil Myers until I attended FanFest Friday, and suddenly his name was all over the place as the weekend continued. … It wasn’t until the highlights of past Futures Game – which starred guys like Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas and a host of current Major League all-stars -- started showing on the jumbotron that I bought in and realized I was about to see something special. It was young guys on the cusp of greatness.

Early on, it looked as though the World Team would dominate the game. They took a 3-0 lead after two innings with the help of two home runs, including a two-run shot by Cubs prospect Jae-Hoon Ha. But it was all United States from the third inning on the Americans won 17-5. Not surprisingly, the MVP of the game was Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos who put on a good show, going 3-for-4 with a walk, a home run and two singles, and three runs scored.

By about 6:30, the stadium was buzzing with anticipation for the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. Thankfully the skies had cleared, the temperature had cooled and it turned out to be a beautiful night … As I arrived at the stadium Sunday night, it didn’t look so promising. Storm clouds appeared to be rolling in and a steady sprinkle fell for the first couple innings of the Futures Game.

Continuing the mascot fun, Sluggerrr and a few of his friends took the field for some between-game entertainment. The bit featured Slugerrr at a DJ’s table on the infield and spinning popular tunes while Mariner Moose, Billy the Marlin, Raymond and Ace acted according to the music. All of it ended with the mascots reenacting the finale of “Dirty Dancing.” Watch this bit I recorded …

Then the event I’d been waiting for: The Legends & Celebrity All-Star Game.

I’ve watched this game every year on ESPN since my youth, and in some ways it’s more entertaining than the Home Run Derby, which becomes more of a snoozefest the longer ESPN allows Chris Berman to host it.

In fact, ESPN has ruined its broadcast of the softball game, too. From a television viewers standpoint, it’s nowhere near as entertaining as it was back in the days when Harold Reynolds and Kenny Mayne played the conniving ival coaches of the two teams. Plus, ESPN edits the crap out of it to cram it’s taped version of the game into a one-hour timeslot after the Home Run Derby, which gets the benefit of airing live.

Which made it all the more fun to watch the softball game live and in-person.

The legends playing in the game this year included Rollie Fingers, Steve Garvey, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Andre Dawson along with, of course, Kansas City favorites George Brett, Mike Sweeney, Joe Carter and Ozzie Smith. Bo Jackson managed one of the teams and received the some of the loudest ovations of the night, with Brett and two representatives from the Wounded Warriors. Rick Sutcliffe managed the other team.

As for the celebrities, Jon Hamm, Jennie Finch, Haley Rinehart, Horatio Sanz, Eric Stonestreet, David Cook, James Denton and Bill Self were among those in the game.

The sentiment was the same as FanFest. I was just thrilled to be in the same building as these people and watching them play it out on the field.

Anybody with a Kansas City or American League connection played for the American League team and anyone with a St. Louis or National League connection played for the National League team.

Chris Rose and Kevin Millar were on hand as emcees, making observations and interviewing the players before innings. During an entertaining interview with Bo Jackson as the game was getting underway, Bo told the men that Eric Stonestreet was his sleeper and chided Rickey Henderson, saying Rickey was so old that he pulled a hamstring getting off the bus earlier in the day.

The Kauffman Stadium crew kept it fun, too, with pop music playing on the sound system throughout the game, games and giveaways between innings and performances by the Royal Thunder drum corps.

Much like the Futures Game, the softball game started close and the National League team ran away with it.

Bill Self was mostly booed by the University of Missouri fans who outdid the Kansas University fans’ cheers. That was until Self smashed a home run over the left field wall, the second of back-to-back-to-back set of home runs bookended by Mike Sweeney and Chord Overstreet.

Jon Hamm hit a home run, too. But during a between-inning interview he did late in the game, I could only view him as Don Draper, the smug Manhattan creative director in “Mad Men,” one of our favorite TV shows.

The game ended with the crowd prodding Bo Jackson, who hadn’t played in the game, to step to the plate for a hack at brining the American Leaguers back from their 21-8 deficit. But Bo swung at the first pitch and popped it up for the game’s final out.

Check out photos from the game here and here.

A few minutes later, the stadium darkened, and the night ended like this …

No comments: