Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tour 2014: MLB All-Star Weekend

All photos of FanFest, ASG Color Run, Futures Game, and Celebrity Softball Game available on Flickr.

Erik and I crossed a major item off of our ball tour bucket list this week - the All-Star Game!  To be more precise, we did not go to the actual All-Star Game per se, but we attended just about every other part of the festivities, including FanFest, All-Star Sunday, and the Homerun Derby.  This year's game was held in Minneapolis, so with Erik living there and only being a half-day's drive from Milwaukee, and in one of my favorite stadiums to boot, it really could not have worked out any better.  My girlfriend Megan was in tow on this trip as well, as she is a diehard Twins fan.  Our trip began on Saturday and we arrived at our hotel in St. Paul around 2:30, following a stop at the local Sports Authority to pick up our Color Run race packets - more on that later.  The Twin Cities Metro recently completed its green line light rail connecting downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis just in time for this event, so we were able to pick up the train a block from the hotel and ride it all the way down University to Nicollet Mall where we met Erik.  It was so incredibly efficient and easy and it really made me wish that Milwaukee would get light rail at some point in my life.  The steady rain that had been falling all day turned to a torrential downpour just as we got off the train, but thankfully Minneapolis has another ingenious means of transportation - the skyway system - and we were able to make it to the convention center mostly under cover.

The Minneapolis Convention Center was host of the 5-day All-Star Fanfest, our first event of the jam-packed weekend.  At its core, it had a lot of the same things you find at other conventions - exhibit booths, guest speakers, interactive displays, shops, etc.  But obviously, FanFest was a lot more enjoyable than the American Institute of Architects Convention I went to a couple weeks ago.  Right inside the front door of the is the "world's largest baseball."  Given the penchant Erik and I have for seeing world's largest/tallest things on our trips, it was a good sign that this was the first thing we saw.  To the left of that was one of the biggest team stores I've ever seen, and here I purchased my usual souvenir ball, as well a Brewers all-star cap.  They actually iron the all-star patches right on the cap for you, it was pretty cool.  Many times during the weekend did I see the little Peanuts All-Star figurines that are this year's theme (like the Statues of Liberty when the game was in New York), and I was extremely proud of myself for not giving into temptation and wasting $30 on a Snoopy doll.  Next to the team store were a few baseball card and collectibles displays, and it was in this area we found the guy who created the Ballpark Passport.  It's a cool concept, you get this book that you can have stamped at each park you visit, but it doesn't do me much good now when I've already seen like 120 stadiums - I wish they had it 7 years ago.  From there, we hit some of the fun stuff - batting cages, and an area where you can race a video of a major leaguer and slide into 2nd base.  I was quite rusty in the cage and running the bases; it's been awhile since I've been in a softball league.  Erik and I both chose to race Bryce Harper.  Did we beat him?  That's a clown question, bro.  I rolled off of 2nd base trying not to draw attention to my pants nearly falling off, and we hit the other half of the FanFest, which was a lot of displays and memorabilia.  The coolest part, besides stealing 2nd, was the room that showcased all of the major baseball award trophies - the MVP award, the Gold Glove, the Jackie Robinson award, even the World Series trophy.  We also got to meet an artist that Erik and I really like who does minimalist prints of all the stadiums.  We both have some of his work framed at our apartments and convinced him that he needed to do a print of County Stadium in the near future.  In total we got through the entire fest in about 3 hours, and probably half of that time was spent waiting in lines and inhaling chili cheese fries.

After the fest, we hitched a shuttle ride up to Erik and Katie's apartment near the ballpark and had burgers & brats on the grill.  We got back to the hotel around 9 and finally checked in, and let's just say it definitely fell into the E + P "shadytown" category of hotels.  The cable and internet were not working, and while there was a hotel bar, it was closed.  It was like I was back in 1997.  It was probably for the best, because we got to bed early for a long day on Sunday.

Our Sunday began with the All-Star 5K at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.  There must have been at least 20,000 people there, it was insane!  But also impressive in that it was pretty organized, far more organized than the 5K my friend Kristen and I put together with 50 participants.  The past few years there has been a 5K as part of the MLB All-Star Festivities, but to my knowledge this was the first one of the Color Run variety.  What happens is that at several points along the route, volunteers pelt and douse you with colored powder that is supposed to easily wash off, but 3 days later my shoulders and chest are still blue.  It was cool to be part of such a large and fun event, and to run such a casual race in which people seemed to care more about getting dirty than actually running.  Afterwards we hosed down for a bit at Erik's house and watched the World Cup final at nearby Fulton Brewery before heading to the ballpark for All-Star Sunday.

The first game at Target Field was probably the event E and I were looking forward to most of the weekend - the Futures Game.  It's the most honest and inclusive representation of talent among all the athletes showcased during All-Star Week, and an exciting glimpse into the future of baseball.  Most of these players end up in the major leagues within a couple of years, and many have a near immediate impact for their teams.  For example, Mike Trout played in the Futures Game in 2010, and this year not only has he already earned his 3rd All-Star selection, but he is still younger than a third of the players in this year's Futures Game.  Players from all levels of the minor leagues are selected primarily by scouts and sportswriters and divided into USA and World teams, based not just on their season's statistics as a typical all-star game would be, but also by their projections as prospects.  So you are truly seeing the best and brightest stars of the future generation of this game, hence the name.  Some of the more well-known prospects in this year's game included 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez of the Cubs organization, P Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, and hometown propsect Alex Meyer of the Twins.  Joey Gallo out of the Rangers organization was the MVP of the exhibition contest with the game-winning 2-run homer for the US squad.  The aforementioned Baez also went yard in the game - wow, with him Bryant, Soler, and now Addison Russell, the Cubs are going to be stacked in a couple years.  The lone Brewers representative in the game was Brevard County pitcher Jorge Lopez, who recorded the 1st out of the 8th for the World team.

After the conclusion of the Futures Game, we had pretty much our only opportunity to walk around the stadium for the weekend.  We walked through the team store for a bit and marveled at all of the awesome All-Star gear on display and got a quick bite for dinner.  I had been reading in the weeks leading up to the break about the 50+ new food items being rolled out for All-Star Week, but I honestly didn't notice anything special or exciting.  The calzone I had on Sunday and the foot-long dog I had on Monday were both average at best.  The much-heralded self-serve beer machine was also a joke - and yes, I mean machine, singular.  You still have to buy your pre-paid card for it at the concessions stand, then wait in a ridiculous line to tap your beer.  I'm guessing when people start doing the math and realizing the price-per-ounce is the same throughout the park, the novelty will wear off.  I thought the Twins could have done much more for All-Star Week in terms of concessions, but with staples like Kramarczuk's Sausage, Killebrew Root Beer, and the Tony O Cuban sammich remaining, it would be hard for me to think any lesser of Target Field.

The final event of our long All-Star Sunday was the Legends & Celebrities Softball Game.  Had this not been included with the price of admission into the Futures Game, honestly I don't think we would have went.  It would have been like paying to see a bar league softball game, except with attractive and wealthy players.  But there were definitely enjoyable moments.  Jim Thome, who played a couple seasons with the Twins, was on hand and got some of the loudest cheers, but he didn't do very well.  I think him and Rickey Henderson were honestly there playing for a contract - Rickey, per the usual in this event, led off and went deep.  John Smoltz, Ozzie Smith, Freddy Lynn, Mike Piazza, Dwight Gooden, and should-be-Hall-of-Famer and former Twin Jack Morris were among the former major leaguers to suit up in the game, and Nelly, Minnesota natives Andrew Zimmern and Larry Fitzgerald, and Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise were among the celebrities.  A really cool part was there were a couple of amputee Iraq War veterans in the game, and they actually did pretty well.  One of the guys only had one arm and made some sensational Jim Abbott-like plays in the outfield.  Some guy I never heard of, David Nail, and Nelly won co-MVP honors, each hitting two homeruns in the game.  Looks like Nelly has a nice career lined up for him if that follow-up to Country Grammar never pans out.  It is usually a fun event to watch on TV, but this game was not very suitable for how high up we were sitting without the aid of the on-field cameras.  Megan and Katie seemed to enjoy fantasizing about James Denton taking his shirt off during the game, so I was happy that they were happy.  

They had to drag the game on with an extra inning and a "homerun derby" that was very much just made up on the spot until it got dark enough for postgame fireworks, after which we all went home very exhausted from our long day.  In my heart, I really wanted to stay out and tie one on afterwards, but apparently I am getting too old to wake up early to run and then drink for 12 hours. 

Dalton Pompey, CF, Toronto (A+)

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland (AA)
Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta (AA)
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Minnesota (AA)
Steven Moya, LF, Detroit (AA)
Dariel Alvarez, RF, Baltimore (AA)
Gabriel Guerrero, DH, Seattle (A+)
Renato Nunez, 3B, Oakland (A+)
Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas (A+)
J.O. Berrios, P, Minnesota (A+)

Michael Taylor, CF, Washington (AA)
Sean Coyle, 2B, Boston (AA)
Corey Seager, SS, LA Dodgers (A+)
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chi Cubs (AAA)
Joey Gallo, DH, Texas (AA)
D.J. Peterson, 1B, Seattle (AA)
Jesse Winker, LF, Cincinnati (AA)
Hunter Renfroe, RF, San Diego (AA)
Kevin Plawecki, C, NY Mets (AA)
Henry Owens, P, Boston (AA) 

pitchers of record – Jake Thompson (W), Michael Feliz (L), Noah Syndergaard (S)
time of game – 2:33
attendance – 39553
score – 3-2 USA

Brewers score that day – 11-2 W

Brewers 53-43, +1.0, (3 @ Nationals, 3 v. Reds, 4 v. Mets)
Reds 51-44, -1.5 (3 @ Yankees, 3 @ Brewers, 3 v. Nationals)
Twins 44-50, -10.5 (3 v. Rays, 3 v. Indians, 4 v. White Sox)

Erik - 4 (+19 worked)

Peter - 27 

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