Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All-Star Week

All photos of Northwoods League All-Star Game available on Flickr.

Midsummer Classics dotted baseball schedules around the country this week, with of course the creme de la creme being the 79th MLB All-Star Game, played this year at Yankee Stadium for the 4th and final time, as the ballpark is being razed in favor of a $1 billion replica for the 2009 season. Monday Night I attended the Northwoods League All-Star Game with my parents in Madison. It was a showcase of some of the finest collegiate talent from around the nation competing in the national spotlight on ESPN-U. Following a special day on Sunday that featured a US Military All-Stars game and the NWL Home Run Derby (Mankato outfielder Michael Rockett took home the trophy with 10 HRs), the actual all-star game itself was sure to be a treat. It was the first all-star game at any level I'd ever attended and I was looking forward to it for many months, and it did not disappoint.

After purchasing some all-star game merchandise (see sweet logo above) and grabbing dinner, we went out to our seats to watch the teams warm up. The seats I purchased 2 months ago ended up being direcly behind a post (E-Mallards website for not specifying which seats were Obstructed View). Once we moved over, we observed a few interesting happenings that occurred even before the game started. First of all, there was one random other team's mascot in attendance - Slider of the Rochester Honkers. Why their mascot is not a goose and/or named Honky is beyond me, but that's another story. This tall lanky mascot would chest bump and basically just get really excited every time a Honkers player was introduced during the All-Star Lineups ceremony, and it provided a lot of entertainment to an otherwise long and mundane process. Secondly, the umpires were introduced - all 12 of them! Each set of 6 performed their duties for 4.5 innings a piece. I'm not sure if I was more surprised that the NWL actually had that many umpires, or that the ASG employed a "pinch umpire" system. Third, the singing of "O Canada," in honor of the Thunder Bay invitees, was probably the worst national anthem I've ever heard in person. He was horrendously off-key right out of the gate, he struggled to remember the words to the song, and at one point even took a long pause and started laughing before regaining his composure and stumbling to the finish. I tried to sing as loud as I could to help him out, but it was to no avail. This provides further fuel to Erik's theory that National Anthems should only be sung by children and barbershop quartets. Last but certainly not least, as is the tradition in Madison, Maynard Mallard the mascot brought in the game ball on a zipline and delivered it to the Mayor of Madison, who tossed a strike for the ceremonial first pitch.

The game itself dragged on quite long, as there was a lot of offense and a lot of pitching changes, but it was a great experience to be witnessing so much talent, most of which will probably be drafted in the next couple years. Every pitcher tossed between 2/3 and 1 inning, and every single player on both sides got into the game. The South All-Stars struck with 2 in the 1st, and the North countered with 3 in the 2nd. After that, it was all south as they motored on to an 8-4 victory, their first over the north in 3 years. It was hard to pick up and/or remember any one player since there were so many substitutions, but the two Madison starters, Matt Jansen and Rob Lyerly, looked like studs. Jansen started the game and struck out the side, and Lyerly was 2-2 with a walk and an RBI double. Josh Prince and the MVP of the game, Cory Vaughn, both also chimed in with 2 hits a piece for the South. After a long evening of watching pre-game fungoes, drinking cheap beer, and non-stop entertainment, we unfortunately had to leave after the 7th, due to a combination of my parents having to get up at 5 AM for work, and the out-of-nowhere arrival of a thick swarm of mosquitoes.

After arriving home that night, I could not have been more relieved that I had my folks tape the MLB derby, because boy did Josh Hamilton put on a show. I saw this kid come up with the Reds last year when I was in Cincinnati and he is going to be something special. In a constant effort to hit one out of the stadium, he put up 28 in the first round, but alas was too tired to sustain the momentum for three rounds, and ended up conceding to Justin Morneau for the crown. Come next year though, nobody is going to even remember that Morneau won, only J-Ham's remarkable performance. Milwaukee Brewer slugger Ryan Braun took third with 14 total homers.

The big day was Tuesday, the MLB All-Star Game. It was really special to watch, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there, to see the parade down 6th Avenue with all the all-stars past and present. And then to go to Yankee Stadium and see the largest assemblage of Hall of Famers and All-Stars on one field in the history of the game during the pre-game ceremony. And then to see Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, and Goose Gossage throw out the first pitches, which were driven in by "The Boss" George Steinbrenner, who was clearly in tears on this remarkable evening. And then to watch the National League trying to win for the first time since 1996, only to be outlasted by the AL in 15 innings, and just under 5 hours. JD Drew may have won the MVP award, but the real MVP was the Mayor of New York and the Steinbrenner family for putting this together. It was only fitting on this special night that Commissioner Selig refused to concede the game in a tie as happened in 2002 - this game was going to go on forever if needed so as to make this All-Star Game a memorable one for ages and ages.

Tonight are most of the Minor League all-star games, and I will definitely be watching the AAA ASG on ESPN2. The 2nd half starts Thursday - let's go Crew!

NWL All-Star Game stats & lineups:

Michael Rockett CF, Mankato

erek McCallum 2B, St. Cloud
Carlos Ramirez C, Mankato

Eric Stephens DH, Rochester

Derek Wiley 1B, Thunder Bay

Devin Goodwin 3B, Rochester

Tony Balisteri SS, Rochester

Josh Upchurch RF, Alexandria

Chris House LF, Duluth

Brendan Lafferty P, Mankato

Ryan Goins SS, Waterloo

AJ Shindler 2B, Battle Creek

Cory Vaughn CF, La Crosse

Derek Melton 1B, La Crosse

Rob Lyerly RF, Madison

Joey Register DH, Waterloo

Jeff Cowan 3B, Wisconsin

Troy Frazier LF, Wisconsin

Rocky Gale C, Green Bay

Matt Jansen P, Madison

first half winners - Mankato (N), Madison (S)
MVP - Cory Vaughn

pitchers of record - Chris Sale (W), Alex Kalogrides (L)

time of game - 3:01

attendance - 5357

stadium - Warner Park, Madison WI


Brewers 52-43, -5.0 (3 @ Giants)

Reds 46-50, -12.5 (4 v. Mets)

Twins 53-42, -1.5 (3 v. Rangers)

Erik - 20

Peter - 34

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